Bandits and Partisans: The Antonov Movement in the Russian Civil War 0822943433, 9780822943433

Beginning in the fall of 1920, Aleksandr Antonov led an insurgency that became the largest armed peasant revolt against

633 134 7MB

English Pages 432 [403] Year 2008

Report DMCA / Copyright


Polecaj historie

Bandits and Partisans: The Antonov Movement in the Russian Civil War
 0822943433, 9780822943433

Table of contents :
Maps and Figures
Glossary and Abbreviations
1. Revolution and Recalcitrance
2. The Making of a Civil War Bandit: Aleksandr Antonov
3. Conspiratorial Designs
4. The Collapse of Soviet Authority in Tambov
5. The Partisan Countryside At War
6. Claiming the Initiative: Anxiety, Opportunity, and Seasonal Change in Early 1921
7. Between Ambition and Necessity: Insurgency and Counterinsurgency, April - June 1921
8. Facets of "Sovietization": Repression, Countermobilization, Occupation

Citation preview



Erik ( . Landis



m rs o n e o

n ess

Published by the University o f Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh PA 15260 Copyright © 2008, University o f Pittsburgh Press All rights reserved Manufactured in the United States o f America Printed on acid-free paper 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Library o f Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Landis, Erik C. Bandits and partisans : the Antonov movement in the Russian Civil War / Erik C. Landis. p. cm. — (Pitt series in russian and east european studies) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN-13:978-0-8229-4343-3 (cloth : alk. paper) ISBN-10:0-8229-4343-3 (cloth : alk. paper) 1. Soviet Union— History— Revolution, 1917-1921— Protest movements. 2. Tambovskaia guberniia (R.S.F.S.R.)— History— 20th century. 3. Peasant uprisings— Russia— Tambovskaia guberniia— History— 20th century. 4. Antonov, Aleksandr Stepanovich. 5. Peasantry— Russia— Tambovskaia guberniia (R.S.F.S.R.) — Political activity— History— 20th cen tu ry. I. Title. II. Title: Antonov movement in the Russian Civil War. DK265.8.T3L36 2008 947.084'!— dc22 2007046148


CONTENTS Maps and Figures




Glossary and Abbreviations


























NAPS AND FIGURES The provinces o f European Russia, 1917


Tambov Province, with uezd townships


Southeastern Tambov Province, with railways and selected stations and villages Aleksandr Antonov, 1917 or 1918

xix 49

Anti-Antonov propaganda poster


Organizational scheme o f the Partisan Army o f the Tambov region


One o f the Tambov villagers who met with Lenin, February 1921


Crash site o f a Red Army airplane with onlookers in the background, 1921


The Antonov brothers following the shoot-out with Cheka agents, 22 June 1922


PREFACE T his book is a history o f the Tambov rebellion, the second to appear in English and the first published since the breakup o f the Soviet U nion.1 It is first and foremost a narrative account o f the insurgency and its suppression, but it is also a study o f the politics o f civil war in Russia, a portrait o f Soviet state building and Com munist Party politics in their provincial setting, as well as an examination o f popular politics in the village communities o f Tambov. In touching upon these themes, I seek to contribute to developments in the historiography that have deepened and broadened our understanding o f Russia’s turbulent experience o f the early twentieth century. Not only have more detailed studies o f the central events o f this period emerged since the breakup o f the Soviet Union, utilizing recently unaccessible archival materials, but also the mosaic o f local settings has similarly entered our descriptions o f this period to provide a much deeper appre­ ciation o f the varieties o f experience that often hinged upon central events.2 Likewise, studies o f the political culture o f the early Soviet period have broadened scholars’ appreciation o f the context for understanding the strategies and practices o f state building pursued by rival forces during the period o f the Russian revolu­ tion and civil war.3 The com mon critical focus o f these studies has been on the outcom es o f the revolution o f 1917, explaining how many o f the most salient contours o f Soviet despotism emerged from these early years. While explanations have grown more sophisticated, new materials have also enriched the story o f Russia’s revolution and civil war with a personal perspective that deepens our understanding o f this complex period. To paraphrase Herbert Butterfield, the story has progressed far from the simple picture o f good men fighting bad. This book aims to add to this development by presenting a portrait o f an important rural rebellion that highlights many o f the contingencies that ultimately defined and determined the course o f events. The rural anti-Bolshevik rebellions that punctuated the civil war period became an area o f particular interest among Russian and non-Russian historians alike, once restrictions on historical research and publishing in the USSR were loosened in the mid-1980s. For many, the story o f the brave peasantry resisting the nascent dic­ tatorship o f the proletariat represented the resistance o f the Russian people to an illegitimate, minority government that had usurped the democratic promise o f the revolution o f 1917. What emerged was a picture o f village communities brutalized by




the agents o f the Bolshevik Party and driven to the brink o f starvation by the exploitative policies o f the Soviet state. M ounting grievances and desperation gave rise to armed rebellion, and the wave o f insurgencies that confronted the regime in the final stage o f the civil war conflict represented a violent plebiscite on the Bolsheviks’ brand o f revolution, one that nearly brought the Soviet experiment to an abrupt end. This overwhelming expression o f opposition to the regime was ended only when the state used all the coercive resources at its disposal to suppress the popular will. The preponderance o f contem porary research on this facet o f the civil war era has been devoted to these bookends o f the narrative— the nature o f popular grievances with the Soviet regime and the extent and brutality o f the regime-led suppression o f popular resistance. This study aims to provide a more complete picture o f what was possibly the most important “front” o f resistance to the Bolshevik regime in the late civil war period. In doing so, this study o f the Antonov rebellion moves away from the basic grievance-suppression focus o f much recent scholarship on civil war-era insur­ gencies and seeks to reveal the dynamic and contingent nature by which events unfolded in 1920 and 1921. In the broadest sense, this is a critical study o f popular m obilization and counterinsurgency, one in which the collective identities o f challengers and regime supporters alike are themselves objects o f contention, where the simple labels o f bandit and partisan formed the rhetorical focal point o f a conflict in which rebels and their opponents struggled for popular support and solidarity with appeals regarding the worthiness o f their cause and their legitimate prospects o f success. The antonovshchina and its suppression did not take place in a “cognitive vacuum”;4the themes and symbols that contending sides invoked were largely drawn from the context o f Russia’s revolution and civil war and their interpretation informed the armed conflict itself. Further, the sense o f what was possible for political actors, once again on both sides o f the conflict, was informed by the unique conditions o f state breakdown, the collapse o f formal channels o f communication and information, and the con­ sequent political landscape, whose complexity has prompted several contemporary historians to refer to plural “civil wars” rather than impose an artificial coherence to the period following the Bolsheviks’ seizure o f power in October 1917.5Whatever the merits o f this interpretation, the subsequent civil war did represent a discrete era for contemporaries, as the meanings and promise o f the revolution that ended the Romanov dynasty were disputed and redefined, representing a symbolic touch­ stone as vital as it was elusive. This book seeks to situate the Antonov movement within the context o f this brief but spectacular era o f revolution and civil war in



Russia. Only against the backdrop o f this peculiar era can one properly understand how an uprising in the autumn o f 1920 could be transformed into an elaborate mass movement, and how that movement could just as rapidly collapse and be forgotten by the same communities that represented its former strength. The puzzle that has informed this study from its very beginning can be summed up almost too simply: what are the conditions and mechanisms by which “bandits” become “partisans,” only to return to being “bandits” once again? This is a puzzle that involves individual and collective identity, as well as questions relating to authenticity and memory. But it is also a puzzle that hinges on the context and the conditions that characterize particular eras. In this case, that era is the period o f revolution and civil war in Russia, one that produced both heroism and tragedy, and one characterized by a heightened sense o f anxiety as well as o f possibility. The Antonov movement is best understood as belonging to this fascinating and peculiar era.

M any people have supported the research and the author through the com ple­ tion o f this book. Nearly all o f the research was conducted while I was a postdoc­ toral fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. For this I would like to thank the then Warden o f the College, John Davies, and the Fellows, whose generosity and patience were unparalleled. While in Oxford, I had the opportunity to brush shoulders with many learned people, and this book has benefited from the advice, feedback, and encouragement o f many o f them. Specifically, I would like to thank (and in no particular order) Orlando Figes, Diego Gambetta, Evan Mawdsley, Hew Strachan, Charles Webster, Judith Pallot, Marc Jansen, Carol Leonard, Stephen Lovell, Stathis Kalyvas, and the late Charles Feinstein. Special mention must be given to Steve Smith and Peter Holquist, both o f whom have been exceptionally supportive colleagues. In Russia, I would like to acknowledge the work o f archivists in Tambov, espe­ cially Iurii Meshcheriakov, Tatiana Liapina, and Nina Logina at GATO, who were always friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful. Also in Tambov, m y research over many months would have been impossible without the local knowledge and sin­ cere friendship o f Lilia Zhabina and Svetlana Reston. This book also bears the intellectual influence o f a brief time spent teaching in the Department o f International Politics at the University o f Wales in Aberyst­ wyth, and mention should be given to the help and insight provided by Martin Alexander, Alistair Finlan, and Colin Mclnnes. I am also appreciative o f the addi­ tional support provided by m y current colleagues at Oxford Brookes University.



O n a personal level, my parents, Richard and Toini, have been consistently en­ couraging since long before this book was begun. M y wife, Lisa Sampson, has been not only loving and supportive but also intellectually curious and insightful, help­ ing me through the grind o f writing and opening m y eyes to many more possi­ bilities. It is to her and our daughter that this book is dedicated.


the Antonov rebellion


All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Sabo­ tage and Counterrevolution (VChK)

druzhina, druzhiny brotherhood, often a small squad o f paramilitary soldiers funt

unit o f weight, equivalent to 0.9 lb.


Red Army Headquarters


committees o f the poor


Party o f Left Socialist Revolutionaries


New Economic Policy


a decisive turning point or transformation


five-man commission formed to execute orders no. 130 and 171


unit o f weight, equivalent to 36 lbs.


Party o f Socialist Revolutionaries


Soviet government policy o f forced grain requisitioning (Jan­ uary 1919-March 1921)

revkom, revkomy

revoliutsionnyi komitet, revolutionary committee


Revolutionary Military Council o f the Soviet Republic


self-provisioning; ad hoc food requisitioning by Red Army troops


state collective farms


Council o f People’s Commissars


Soiuz Trudovogo Krest’ianstva, Union o f the Toiling Peasantry



Glossary and Abbreviations


level o f Russian/Soviet administration between province and volost; equivalent to county


All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Sabotage and Counterrevolution (the Cheka)


distance equivalent to 0.66 miles, like a kilometer (0.62 miles)


Internal Security Service organized in September 1920 (incorporating VOKhR)


local military councils


Internal Security Forces o f the Soviet Republic, organized in May 1919


level o f Russian/Soviet administration, equivalent to district


All-Russian Central Executive Committee


institution o f local self-government in postemancipation Russia

The provinces o f European Russia, 1917

Tambov Province, with uezd townships

Southeastern Tambov Province, with railways and selected stations and villages




hen the

A ntonov brothers were finally killed in a shootout with Cheka

agents in late June 1922 in the village o f Nizhnii Shibriai, they had with them

few personal possessions. After nearly one full year in hiding in the forests and swamps o f southern Tambov Province, the former leaders o f one o f the largest rural insurgencies in modern Russian history were isolated in a forest hideaway,

dependent upon a handful o f sympathetic villagers and former comrades for food and, as proved critical to their discovery, medicines to treat the malaria that the elder brother, Aleksandr, had recently contracted. Although Aleksandr and Dmitrii had managed to evade capture in the very region that had for so long been con­ sidered their stronghold, and which had been the focus o f all efforts by Soviet state authorities to locate them, they were only barely surviving, and if their presence near Nizhnii Shibriai was widely known among locals, it was hardly a source o f inspiration and celebration for nearby village communities. It was rather one o f curiosity and, perhaps, toleration. The Cheka and other provincial party and state officials announced the deaths o f the Antonovs in the local and central Soviet press, providing what details they could about the famous bandits who had, for nearly a year, from the autumn o f


Revolution and Recalcitrance

1920 to the summer o f 1921, led an insurgency against the Soviet government in the profoundly agricultural province o f Tambov, located some 350 miles southeast o f Moscow, and home to a population o f just over 3 million persons, over 90 percent o f whom lived in the countryside and made their livelihoods through agriculture and small crafts. The rebellion in Tam bov ended only after the concessionary measures o f the New Economic Policy in the spring o f 1921 and the deployment o f tens o f thousands o f Red Arm y troops to the southern half o f the province over the first months o f that year. The Partisan Army, which at its height could boast a m ounted force o f 20,000-30,000 men, had been under the com m and o f A lek­ sandr Antonov, and the network o f village cells— called Unions o f the Toiling Peasantry (known by the acronym STK, from Soiuz trudovogo krest’ianstva)— formed a civilian support structure for the insurgents that incorporated tens o f thousands o f people and hundreds o f villages in a region where the Com munist Party cells and institutions o f the Soviet state had been rapidly and violently re­ moved during the first weeks o f the conflict. Yet, by the end o f 1921, any vestiges o f the rebellion and the ideas and ideals it sought to promote had been removed from the Tambov countryside, and the defiance o f the Antonovs, when they were discovered by Cheka agents in the summer o f 1922, was now supported by only four handguns and a briefcase full o f ammunition. Press reports in 1922 found it important to mention that two o f their guns were m onogram m ed on the handle— “A. A.” and “D. A.,” respectively— and that the Antonovs were also reported to have in their possession a map o f Tambov Province and a copy o f a recent newspaper containing reports o f starvation in the wider region. (At first glance, this latter detail is a somewhat odd inclusion in official press notices regarding their deaths.) If officials in the provincial administration and Com m unist Party were worried that their earlier failure to catch or kill the Antonovs left open the possibility o f a return o f the insurgency in southern Tambov, and with it the bloodshed that had taken the lives o f hundreds o f Red Arm y and Com munist Party soldiers and o f thousands— possibly even tens o f thousands— o f civilians in Tambov, then the marginal existence o f the Antonovs upon their dis­ covery in Nizhnii Shibriai must have been reassuring. Also among their possessions were notebooks that contained scattered writings, including what appeared to be the beginnings o f a history o f the Tambov rebellion written by Dm itrii Antonov. The central press in M oscow reported that Dm itrii had even penned an opening dedication to his brother, Aleksandr, recalling “every alcove (ugol), every bush, valley and forest that for us became familiar.” This was, according to Dm itrii, the “best o f times,” when “during our ten-m onth-long war we defeated many Red Arm y forces and killed not a few Com munist Party units.” 1

Revolution and Recalcitrance


If there was confirm ation that the Antonovs had no designs to renew their struggle with the Soviet state, then these few words from the pen o f Dmitrii Antonov were that. However, they had long since been marginalized and defeated, and the village communities o f southern Tambov, which had at one time mobilized for armed resistance to the Soviet state and which had paid a heavy price for their defiance in the summer o f 1921, had actively distanced themselves from the expe­ rience and m em ory o f the insurgency. The Antonov rebellion, part o f the “petitbourgeois counterrevolution” that Lenin had rather dram atically identified in March 1921 as “more dangerous than Denikin, Iudenich, and Kolchak combined,”2 had been rapidly consigned to history as those same rural communities struggled to regain a normal life amid terrible material conditions and hardships at the close o f the civil war era. The rebellion, and particularly its “heroic” pacification by the Red Arm y and Com munist Party, would be far from simply “airbrushed” entirely out o f official histories in the Soviet Union.3 But if Dm itrii Antonov had com ­ pleted his own account o f the antonovshchina, as the rebellion became known, it would no doubt have dwelled on considerably different themes, no less heroic, drawn from the brief but spectacular tim e when the Partisan A rm y and STK dominated the countryside o f southern Tambov Province and endeavored to in­ still and promote a collective identity for insurgents that rested upon the shared experience o f injustice imposed by the Soviet state and on the prospects for pos­ itive change. A t the height o f the Antonov rebellion, the support o f the vast majority o f vil­ lage communities in the zone o f the conflict was recognized by Soviet govern­ ment and Red Arm y officials, and popular sympathy for the cause o f the rebellion extended well beyond the immediate control o f the Partisan Army. Yet no one in Tambov lamented the death o f the “ hero” Aleksandr Antonov in 1922, and the partisan leader did not survive in popular folk culture or local mythology. It was not until the very end o f the century, after the Soviet U nion had formally ceased to exist, that certain groups in Tambov began to cham pion the rehabilitation o f the Antonovs as local heroes, and then it was principally ultranationalist and racist fringe groups that sought to rebrand the former “bandits” as true Russian patriots and no-nonsense “ Tambov wolves.”4W hile a mem orial now stands near the site where the Antonovs were unceremoniously buried in the regional capi­ tal in 1922, the unveiling o f the m emorial (and the O rthodox church service that accompanied it) attracted relatively little attention, even from the local public. If the rebellion is remembered at all, it is as a tragedy in which countless inno­ cent lives were lost, an episode in a wider tragedy o f revolution and civil war in Russia.5


Revolution and Recalcitrance

LOCAL GOVERNMENT, V ELA G E COMMUNITIES, AND DESERTION IN TAMBOV, 1918-1920 W hat came to define the political situation in Tambov Province during the civil war years was the weakness o f local government. The province had always suffered from “underadministration” like all such territories in Russia in the late imperial period, and this characteristic was only exacerbated by the events o f 1917 and the agrarian revolution against private estates in the countryside that continued into the early months o f 1918. The inability o f the Provisional Government to contain the land seizures was indicative o f its own problems in this regard, and when the Bolshevik Party eventually assumed power in the province in 1918, problems with local administration hampered their own efforts to gain control over the villages and districts at a time when the Soviet government was beginning its mobilization for civil war. For agrarian provinces such as Tambov, the contribution o f the local popula­ tion to the civil war effort against the various anti-Bolshevik forces in Soviet ter­ ritory came down to supplying grain and army recruits from the countryside. This chapter seeks to describe these interrelated pursuits and the development o f state relations with the village population by focusing on desertion and resistance to conscription. Desertion was one o f the consistent problems for the Soviet gov­ ernment and Red Arm y throughout the civil war, and the Red Arm y deserter be­ came not only emblematic o f the failings o f local administration, but also the principal enemy o f the Soviet government as it confronted periodic resistance to its policies. In a very real sense, the Red Arm y deserter was the tangible face o f socalled kulak resistance to Soviet authorities in the countryside. Yet, as this chapter hopes to illustrate, the desertion problem was a complex and ambiguous one. Although significant as an indication o f government failings, desertion arose for many reasons and from a variety o f circumstances, and de­ serters themselves did not constitute a coherent political force in the Russian civil war. Nor, indeed, did they even represent a natural pool o f support for opponents o f the Soviet regime, as government officials feared and reported in the case o f the Antonov rebellion after it began in the autumn o f 1920.6 Instead, to situate the Red Arm y deserter in the political landscape o f civil war Tambov is to illustrate the potential and contingent, rather than existing and powerful, base o f support for rural political opponents o f the Soviet state, such as Antonov.

Revolution and Recalcitrance


TESTING THE WATERS: THE FIRST C M M fP OF 1918 The Red Arm y’s desertion problem began in late May 1918, when the Soviet gov­ ernment made its first attempt at general conscription. The revolutionary govern­ ment’s reliance on the urban workers, Bolshevik Party members, and pro-Bolshevik volunteers was appearing insufficient for waging a war against the growing fronts o f counterrevolution and foreign intervention facing the young Soviet state.7 This first attempt at general m obilization was to be carried out in various towns and localities in Soviet Russia, not only in those areas with significant working-class populations, but also in those considered under threat from known counterrev­ olutionary fronts.8Soviet authorities in Tambov Province had already endeavored to create small military units for immediate dispatch to nearby areas where clashes had occurred with units o f the Czechoslovak Legion, such as in neighboring Sara­ tov Province, and Tambov was considered one o f those territories facing im me­ diate dangers and thus required to undertake a general mobilization.9 The decree announcing the m obilization in Tambov declared that all adult men between the ages o f twenty-one and twenty-five were to present themselves at muster points in their locality, where their suitability for service would be assessed and they would begin the process o f assignment within the nascent Red Arm y.10The general out­ look on the mobilization from the perspective o f M oscow was to regard the exer­ cise as experimental. Not only was this the Red Arm y’s first attempt to conscript the peasants o f central Russia, whose reliability was questioned principally on the grounds o f class affiliation, but also the plan for general conscription was em ­ barked upon with very little information on the number o f young men o f con­ scription age in the catchment area. Expectations may have been limited, but there was little or no concrete idea o f what sort o f turnout would constitute success. As the announcement o f the mobilization quickly filtered out to the rural local­ ities, the response was not encouraging for government authorities in the province. The plans for conscription were received at a time when the village communities had already learned o f the government’s declaration o f a state “monopoly” on grain, set out in decrees issued on 13 and 27 May 1918, and plans were already afoot for the requisition o f those same foodstuffs for the task o f alleviating the already desperate conditions affecting the urban population. Some efforts at food collection were al­ ready under way, and agents o f the Food Commissariat— mostly groups o f factory workers dispatched from the major industrial cities— had been greeted with partial confusion and almost uniform resistance, as villagers were still finding their way in a fluid political situation in the province and especially in the countryside.11


Revolution and Recalcitrance

It was no surprise to provincial officials that village groups were hesitant to answer the call for m ilitary conscripts without strong reassurances for the safety o f the village com m unity at large. Two issues were most important in evaluating the initial responses o f village communities: trust and security. The Bolshevik-led Soviet government did not take effective control o f the provincial administration o f Tambov until April 1918, and the Bolshevik Party’s struggle to emulate their comrades in Petrograd by assuming control o f the provincial administration had been largely conducted in the more substantial towns and the provincial capital, without the involvement o f the rural localities.12 Although “ Soviet power” had been declared in individual uezds some months before the provincial government had made a similar break, such acts were largely a part o f local political struggles within small municipalities. The declarations o f Soviet authority were uniform on the surface, attaching local developments to a nationwide phenomenon, but they quickly revealed themselves to be expressions o f local political assertion at the ex­ pense o f provincial and central state authority, even where the local Bolshevik Party had assumed a leading role.13 W hile the Bolsheviks would hardly be an unknown com m odity to those in the village communities o f Tambov when conscription was to begin in lune 1918, vocal opponents o f the Bolsheviks only heightened the level o f natural suspicion that greeted the mobilization order. Local soviet offices, charged with communicating and explaining the mobilization decree to village communities, reported to provin­ cial officials that the reaction o f the villagers did not inspire confidence. Accord­ ing to some reports, people had failed to com prehend the justification for conscription. In isolated reports, the need for a standing arm y was called into










In other areas, though, the knowledge that civil war threatened inspired a m ix o f concern and outrage. Individual villagers decried the outbreak o f a fratricidal war (bratoubiistvennaia voina); in the village o f Mordovo, one local man snatched the firearm from the holster o f a government representative sent to explain the con­ scription order and quickly rose before a village assembly, dramatically asking, “ Look, comrades! For whom is this revolver loaded? Is it for our brother?!” 14 The slogans o f antiwar sentiment— calls to resist both international war and civil war — were already quite familiar to those in the isolated villages o f rural Russia. Anxiety and skepticism were expressed in clearer terms in other localities. A familiar call reported by local soviet officials and representatives o f the M ilitary Commissariat was for the state to distribute firearms among the village population. The reasoning was simple: if the threats to security and well-being were so great, it is better to train the population at large to defend the homestead and native vil-

Revolution and Recalcitrance


läge.15 In some places, this was made a condition for agreeing to mobilization— losing able-bodied young men to the arm y could be compensated by the distri­ bution o f weapons to the community, possibly with arrangements for universal m ilitary training.16 In the village o f Safonov (Usman uezd), nearly 400 locals gathered to pass a resolution stating: “ The mobilization o f the people designated [by the conscription decree] will take place only when weapons are delivered for distribution among the citizens o f all Safonov volost, and after a training center is opened at the offices o f the volost soviet, where all people can be taught how to use these weapons . . . but until this is done, no m obilization will be allowed to proceed.17 For Safonov volost, the m obilization order only heightened anxieties, for it came at a time when such communities were reconciling the appearance o f new central state demands in what was, ostensibly, the postrevolutionary countryside. Distrust o f the state administration— its motives and intentions vis-à-vis the rural population— combined with reports o f counterrevolution to create a strong sense o f insecurity in the summer o f 1918.18 Despite the com m on reasoning popular­ ized in the Bolshevik press that the peasantry supported the Soviet government after its decision to transfer all private lands to the peasants in November 1917, distrust o f state administration was much more concrete to peasants in mid-1918 than the threat o f counterrevolution.19 The dependence o f the Soviet administra­ tion upon the “enthusiasm” o f the working masses for the success o f this first m o­ bilization was more an admission o f weakness than o f optimism.20 The first attempt at general conscription in Tambov was undone by even more practical considerations than this. As happened with mobilizations during the 1904 conflict with Japan and in the weeks before the outbreak o f hostilities in Europe in 1914, provincial officials in Soviet Russia were unprepared to carry out the gen­ eral conscription order.21 W ith Military Commissariats organized in the provinces and a limited number o f localities beginning only in April, when, in the case o f Tambov, the Bolshevik Party was still only establishing itself at the head o f gov­ ernment in the province, the test o f military mobilization o f the general population was extremely daunting for provincial officials.22 O n 17 June, when young men eli­ gible for conscription were to present themselves at the M ilitary Commissariat in the provincial capital and in other towns, very few preparations had been made to process even the small number anticipated to respect the mobilization order. An official sent by the M ilitary Commissariat in M oscow to report on the prepara­ tions being made in Tambov, upon arriving only a couple o f days before the m o­ bilization was set to begin, was horrified to discover “that no work had been done, except for that completed with a criminal sloppiness.”23 The chaos that resulted,


Revolution and Recalcitrance

as groups arrived from the surrounding countryside and began to form a mob o f confused and anxious young men, was enough to temporarily overwhelm local administrators. Most spectacularly, in the provincial capital o f Tambov, hundreds o f men called up for m ilitary service set upon the local magazine, emptying it o f rifles and machine guns. Opponents o f the Bolshevik Party and the recently de­ posed provincial officials o f the Provisional Government assumed brief control o f the municipality, arresting leading members o f the provincial soviet administra­ tion. For nearly two days the Soviet regime in Tambov was overthrown. The brief reign o f the reconstituted municipal Duma was more o f appearance than substance, as its leaders were unable to control the mob. In fact, their reign was brought to a close when, abandoned by the m ob o f call-ups, whose taste for looting and joy­ riding in the streets o f the provincial capital was sated, the Dum a leaders were un­ able to withstand the pressure o f Red Arm y troops brought in to deal with the emergency. It was the last gasp o f the Provisional Government in the province, but it was the beginning o f another struggle for Soviet authorities to gain mastery over the rural population.24 W hile the events in Tambov city were uniquely serious in that the disorders took place at the political center o f the province, similar disorders accompanied the June m obilization campaign in other provincial towns as well. W ithin Tam­ bov Province, popular insecurity and distrust, com bined with a lack o f prepara­ tion for the m obilization, created disturbances in the uezd towns o f Kirsanov and Borisoglebsk, and in the town o f Kozlov, simultaneous disorders among the garrisoned soldier population— discontent with material conditions and anxious at the prospect o f assignment to combat zones— resulted in a brief uprising sim ­ ilar to that in the capital, with the uezd administrators temporarily deposed and incarcerated by insurgents. These rebellious servicemen and call-ups were possi­ bly emboldened by news o f serious disturbances among soldiers in other provin­ cial cities, notably in nearby Saratov, where Red Arm y soldiers in May 1918 resisted being transferred to the front lines by attacking the provincial soviet.25 The mob o f young men called to the muster point in Tambov were reported to be discussing precisely such precedents for rebellion, and their moves to escalate the defiance on 17 June were justified by other, less reliable reports o f a wider political context informed by rumors, for example, o f the assassinations o f both Lenin and Trot­ sky in Moscow. Despite this effort to place measures o f defiance into a wider frame o f reference, and despite the best efforts o f many o f the remaining oppo­ nents o f the Bolsheviks to exploit the public disorders in Tambov, the discontent among the mobilized villagers in the provincial capital was spectacular in effect

Revolution and Recalcitrance


but brief in duration.

ESTABLISHING A FOOTHOLD: STATE-VILLAGE RELATIONS, 191$ The shambles o f the June mobilization campaign left the government with its own priorities regarding the reestablishment o f authority in the provincial capital, while for the young men who had traveled from the villages to the muster points, their attention similarly returned to more domestic matters. The Bolsheviks’ drive to reassert control over governmental affairs following the June uprisings was se­ vere and wide-ranging, and many known supporters o f the Duma opposition were executed in the weeks that followed. The consolidation o f political control over the provincial government and bureaucracy became even more urgent following the spectacular break between the Bolshevik Party and their former coalition part­ ners, the Left Socialist Revolutionaries (LSRs), although in the case o f the LSRs, there was less a crackdown by provincial Bolshevik officials than a facilitated dis­ engagement.26 The experience o f the uprising, then, may have helped the Bolshe­ vik Party consolidate control over the governm ent by eliminating known opponents, but it left the question o f m obilizing the local population for war un­ resolved. To a small extent, the rebelliousness o f the m ob in the provincial capi­ tal was carried to the villages with the erstwhile military call-ups, but it similarly died down with the passage o f time and attacks on village soviets and recently es­ tablished cells o f the Bolshevik Party were isolated occurrences. W hile distrust o f the government still reigned throughout much o f the countryside, there was noth­ ing particularly cathartic about the uprising in the provincial capital for villagers whose experience with the new Soviet government was in its first weeks.27 The next round o f mobilizations to the Red Arm y would not be ventured again in Tambov until the late autumn o f 1918.28According to a senior Red Arm y offi­ cial, S. S. Kamenev, writing in 1923, the Red Arm y remained a largely volunteer force until the end o f 1918, consisting mainly o f urban workers and Bolshevik Party members.29Membership in the Bolshevik Party expanded considerably as the first year under the Soviet government drew to a close, and in the province o f Tambov this expansion proceeded only modestly. At the time o f the October seizure o f power in Petrograd, the Bolshevik contingent in Tambov numbered just over 1,000 members, and by August 1918, the party had still made little headway.30One o f the few lessons drawn by officials in M oscow from the experience o f the June upris­ ing in Tambov was the need for strong Bolshevik leadership in the province.31 But even before this event, the Soviet government had recognized the need to


Revolution and Recalcitrance

forge an effective network o f local institutions to manage the rural population. The network o f volost and village soviets had taken shape with tremendous rapid­ ity in the first half o f 1918, but these were rarely more than ad hoc assemblies, often the former institutions o f local administration (such as the zemstvos, the institu­ tions o f local self-governm ent in postem ancipation Russia) renamed in con­ formity with the changing national political situation.32These local soviets, serving as legitimate organizational representatives o f the community, did more to frus­ trate the efforts o f state representatives working in the countryside than to assist them, as they often identified principally with the interests o f the locality in op­ position to those o f the central government. The Soviet government saw that it had to rely on the resources o f the countryside in order to survive and to m ount a credible war effort in its conflict with the Whites and their supporters in the West. This meant not only grain to feed the army and the urban population, but also manpower for the army and for maintaining a basic infrastructure in Soviet territory. Toward this end, the government launched an initiative to replace the local net­ work o f soviets with institutions that would be more responsive to the needs o f the Soviet government. These institutions, the committees o f the poor (kombedy), were ideally to be class-based bodies, composed o f members o f the rural proletariat and working in the interests o f the village poor at the expense o f the wealthier members o f the village communities. Because the village and volost soviets were believed to have promoted the interests o f the wealthier and more powerful m em ­ bers o f the village communities, the new committees o f the poor were intended to redress that balance and bring the proletarian revolution to those rural com ­ munities. The official rhetoric advocated bringing a civil war to the villages that would end with the trium ph o f the powerless in the hierarchical peasant society. Unlike the soviets, which had genuinely spread through the province o f Tambov as communities united to embrace the revolution against the landed gentry and landholders operating outside the peasant commune, the kombedy were brought to the villages by agents o f the Soviet state and Com munist Party. Party activists by the hundred were brought into provinces such as Tambov to organize kombedy in the localities and to transfer village authority away from the village soviets.33 A significant contribution was made by military servicemen from the garrisons in towns such as Kozlov and Usman, while in Borisoglebsk uezd, soldiers in the town o f Borisoglebsk and at railway stations awaiting assignment to the southern front also played a central role in organizing kom bedy in the surrounding country­ side.34 Groups o f soldiers were dispatched to bring the kombedy to the villages. Some activists were more zealous than others, and some communities resisted the

Revolution and Recalcitrance


new institutions. In many villages, the creation o f the kombedy was as effortless as the previous creation o f the village soviet: a matter o f a name change and the formal election o f the same individuals who had been serving in the soviet.35 In other com m uni­ ties, the idea o f a new institution to replace the soviet was resisted tooth and nail. This was hardly unexpected, given that the kombedy were conceived as institutional weapons in the class war. Where local communities were against the replacement o f the village soviet by such a committee, state organizers resorted to a variety o f means to establish such a committee. Finding people to serve as members o f the kombedy was difficult in such cases, and organizers enlisted the involvement o f the nonfarming peasantry and those who had only recently arrived in a locality, such as refugees from war-torn areas or in-migrants from the starving cities o f Soviet territory. Often, service in the kombedy was the only source o f income for such people who, at best, had only a tenuous membership in the local community. Organizers often had to resort to fixing elections— when elections were actually staged— to get such “outsiders” selected for membership to the kombedy. In many cases, the organizers themselves served in some capacity as members o f the new kombedy, although they were not locally based and could be in a given village or volost only periodically. In the first instance, the principal task was getting kombedy organized in as many localities as possible. Some were organized clandestinely — not simply against the wishes o f the local community, but under their noses, as well.36 The kombedy would be forced to find their feet in the autumn and early w in­ ter o f 1918, when the provincial government was confronted with the twin tasks o f procuring food from the countryside and conscripting local men from the vil­ lages for service in the Red Army. The timing for the former task was determined by the harvest, which began in August and extended through October. Tambov had already become a favored destination for the squads o f workers and soldiers who scoured the countryside for grain to be purchased at governm ent prices under the terms o f the food m onopoly established in M ay 1918. Despite the poor weather at harvest time, officials in Moscow encouraged these procurement squads to go to Tambov, where the harvest was believed to be “gigantic,” according to Lenin, enough “to save the entire revolution.”37 The number o f such procurement agents present in Tambov during the autumn was lower than during the more chaotic days o f the summer o f 1918, a reduction owing to the steady mobilization o f Com m unist Party members and workers for service in the Red Army. But the overall number was still significant— just under 5,000— and Tambov was a prin­ cipal destination for such procurement squads.38Armed with state decrees, por-


Revolution and Recalcitrance

traits o f Lenin the leader, as well as rifles and handguns, procurement agents be­ came one o f the more active groups in organizing local committees o f the poor, and the greatest expansion in the network o f kom bedy occurred when these squads o f procurement workers were at the peak o f their activity, registering har­ vest totals and securing the delivery o f “ surpluses” to governm ent collection points.39 By the beginning o f October 1918, there was a total o f 315 volost-level com mittees


the poor, and some 2,576 such committees at the village level.40 For the task o f mobilizing soldiers, the timing for a second attempt at general conscription was determined by the simple need for a larger army force, one that would require less preparation for combat. The Red Arm y’s reliance on trade union and Com munist Party members may have created an elite force o f relative relia­ bility and effectiveness, but it was always going to fall short o f the requirements o f a Soviet government facing threats on multiple fronts. When the Red Army achieved its most significant victory to date in early September— the recapture o f Kazan from the forces o f the Komuch government— this was achieved with units or­ ganized along traditional military lines and with the extensive use o f officers who had served in the tsarist army. This victory effectively ended the threat posed by the Komuch government in the Volga region, but at no time did it appear to be the end o f hostilities with anti-Bolshevik forces. Yet the victory at Kazan did dem on­ strate the effectiveness o f a traditionally organized Red Army. Trotsky, as people’s commissar for the army and navy and now chairman o f the Revolutionary M ili­ tary Council (RVSR), set to extending these principles to the Red Arm y as a whole. Ad hoc partisan units were to be integrated into formal regiments, and there would be fewer divisions o f the Red Army, organized into army groups. W hat is more, a com plementary system o f reserves was required to reinforce these active units, but because o f the developing threats facing the Soviet Republic in late 1918, there would be fewer strategic reserves in proportion to active front-line units.41 An overall expansion o f the army was necessitated; for Lenin, the magical figure o f 3 million represented the manpower target for the Soviet armed forces, faced with the threats o f counterrevolution and the challenges o f defending the coming world proletarian revolution.42 O n 11 September 1918, the Soviet government an­ nounced its intention to conscript a single age group— twenty-year-olds (born in 1898)— as well as to mobilize former officers and N C O s o f the tsarist army, those born between 1890 and 1897.43 This was quickly followed by the call-up o f all men born between 1893 and 1897, precisely the same groups who had been among the last ones mobilized during the world war effort in 1916 and whom the Bolsheviks had initially sought to recall in selected localities in June 1918, with such disas-

Revolution and Recalcitrance


trous results for the Tambov provincial government.44 As the system o f kombedy expanded, so did the network o f local military com ­ missariats responsible for compiling lists o f men eligible for military call-up.45 The announced m obilization itself was to be undertaken in November and Decem ­ ber, after such lists were drawn up and after the major w ork in the fields and preparations for the procurement campaign were completed. W hile the intro­ duction o f local military commissariats and kombedy was intended to improve the state’s capacity to undertake measures such as a conscription drive, the upheaval brought by the changes connected with the introduction o f the kom bedy only served to complicate matters in the short term. Tensions were raised in villages where the kombedy had been introduced after a struggle with local supporters o f the soviet, and these tensions were further heightened when the new kombedy were called upon to oversee the registration o f harvest collection and surplus grain for procurement by state agents. In addition, in certain communities where locals were polarized over the intro­ duction o f the kombedy, the “civil war” or “class war” within the village became a tangible component in consolidating the authority o f the kombedy. The instruc­ tions issued by uezd officials concerning the duties o f the new committees o f the poor varied in certain nuances and in their emphasis, but in many localities the new byword o f the Soviet regime— terror— represented a critical function o f these new agents o f the state in the villages.46 The registration o f “bourgeois” households— persons and property— and placing these individuals on the lowest level o f rations (a status they shared with other members o f the “exploiting classes” in the towns), was one facet o f the class war the kombedy were intended to introduce into the vil­ lages. Because the kombedy were introduced on a shoestring budget, and often on no budget whatsoever, the mandatory “contributions” by these households and in­ dividuals became an important source o f income for the new committees almost from the moment o f their inception.47 Once again, the experiences o f individual communities varied considerably, according to how much resistance there had been to organizing a committee. But in those localities where the new committees were embattled and engaged in an increasingly polarized environment, the terror in the villages could be very real, rather than the stuff o f reports and stories from the towns. A Communist Party member from the region o f Tokarevka and Abakumova in Tambov uezd, S. Bulgakov, described the developing situation in a report to VTsIK, based on his impressions following a brief trip home:

In the villages now people are afraid of wearing clean clothes in public because they might be branded “bourgeois” and have their clothes confiscated. Anyone who owns


Revolution and Recalcitrance

a half-decent horse is at risk of being called “bourgeois,” and God help you if your house is actually clean and tidy— even if you have a family of ten to fifteen persons living there and you slave day and night just to keep it moderately clean. It too can become a “contribution,” or whatever they call a tax these days.48 Bulgakov further described the confrontational atmosphere that surrounded the kom bedy and the fact that the Com m unist Party members who served on the volost committees o f the poor in Tokarevka and Abakumovka were never seen on the street or in meetings without brandishing personal firearms. There was a siege mentality displayed by many members o f the Communist Party and o f the kombedy in the countryside. In the towns, Com m unist Party members behaved similarly. And the tasks set for these individuals by the Soviet state in late 1918 only accen­ tuated this mind-set. At the time o f the call-up o f the former officers, junior officers, and twentyyear-olds, the campaign to collect grain from the village farmers was also in full swing. Villagers were enticed to deliver their foodstuffs to collection points by promises o f exchange for various necessary items, such as salt and kerosene, whose distribution the government controlled.49 Despite these promises o f goods ex­ change, the declared m onopoly over grain surpluses remained controversial. The involvement o f government agents and the kombedy in registering the harvests and evaluating consum ption norm s for individual households only made the policy that much more controversial and unpopular, even if the alternative, rep­ resented by the grain speculators who were so numerous in the late summer o f 1918, was equally menacing and unpopular. Some localities, though, were more primed for confrontation with the government agents than others, and in these areas violence quickly erupted once demands for delivery o f surpluses were issued. The first major outbreak o f hostilities occurred in an area already familiar to provincial officials. In Morshansk uezd, a conflict had developed within the soviet administration itself over the state’s declaration o f the food dictatorship in May 1918, and in June this resulted in a violent schism within the Communist Party and soviet administration. O n 10 July 1918, the Morshansk uezd Congress o f Soviets was forcibly dispersed by progovernment troops after the faction o f delegates who were opposed to the provisions o f the food dictatorship decree passed a protest resolution. Many delegates were arrested, but those opponents to the grain m o­ nopoly who managed to escape arrest took their struggle to the countryside, con­ vening a dissident congress on 22 July that drew representation from a nine-volost region in southwest M orshansk uezd. This “extraordinary” congress was also forcibly dispersed by Cheka agents and progovernment troops, and the main dis-

Revolution and Recalcitrance


sidents were finally rounded up. But the opposition to the grain m onopoly and planned campaign to requisition surpluses from the village farmers in the region was already primed for action.50 It would come as little surprise, then, to the embattled Com munist Party and soviet administration in Morshansk uezd that when hostilities began over the req­ uisitioning o f grain in October 1918, it was principally in the region where the dis­ sidents had made their final stand. Some clashes between government agents and local farmers had occurred in early August, but by early November clashes neces­ sitated the intervention o f government troops. The defiance began in the village o f Ostrovka, where villagers began a march toward the uezd town o f Morshansk following a prolonged dispute with a grain requisition detachment. Hoping to protest directly to uezd officials, the crowd gathered supporters as it moved from village to village. The marchers were finally met by armed troops some twenty miles outside Morshansk, and after several rounds were shot by both sides, the government forces made several arrests from among the marchers.51 The spirit o f defiance, though, had already spread through much o f the region, as locals carried the news o f the clashes from village to village, and in m any cases the news was ac­ com panied by calls for similar resistance to the government. In the village o f Cherkino, locals took the occasion to disband its local committee o f the poor and to restore the village soviet in its place. In the nearby village o f Pavlovka, locals did much the same, disbanding the kombedy and restoring the institution o f the so­ viet, electing Filipp Khromtsov as chairman. Khromtsov had been the chairman o f the village committee o f the poor, and before that he had been chairman o f the village soviet.52 It was in the midst o f such disturbances that general conscription was ven­ tured, and clashes over m ilitary m obilization led to the overall crisis in public order facing provincial officials. In Morshansk, uezd officials were confronted with peasant marchers to the west and with rebellious military call-ups to the east. On 10 November, over 600 soldiers had to be brought in from Tambov uezd and from neighboring Penza Province to regain control over rebellious military conscripts who had already disarmed one unit o f armed governm ent soldiers and who threatened to bring their rebellion to the town o f Morshansk and its sizable gar­ rison population.53 At the same time, conscripts in southwestern Tambov uezd were similarly resisting mobilization, requiring the eventual intervention o f over 1,000 government troops armed with artillery and machine guns.54 In October and November 1918, seven out o f twelve uezds in Tambov Province reported serious disturbances and clashes between village communities and gov­ ernment agents.55 In many localities that experienced uprisings, the committees o f


Revolution and Recalcitrance

the poor emerged as the principal targets, for the kombedy were the institutional embodiment o f so many o f the changes that were being brought to the country­ side, and in most cases they were the agents o f many o f the new demands being made o f the rural population. In many cases where local communities had been divided over the legitimacy o f the kombedy, or where the kombedy had been fiercely resisted by the local com m unity as a whole, committee members often met ex­ tremely violent ends, as the spirit o f rebellion spread through the countryside. One kombedy member who was spared such a fate in the village o f Levye Lamki, in Morshansk uezd, described events in the village in a letter to his brother: On 31 October, a delegation from a neighboring village arrived and began sounding the church bell. It was an awfully hazy day, but there was no fire to be seen. People assembled after the sounding of the bell, and there the delegation explained the situation. Then the assembled crowd seized two members of the committee of the poor, dispatching one of these out of the village, and the other they killed. The people at the assembly had arrived armed with staffs and pikes in order to do battle against the Soviet government. Orders from the assembly were to pick their own delegation and set off for another neighboring village and sound the alarm for an uprising there__ The spirit of the crowd was fabulous, and especially their grand designs, as they wanted to march all the way to Moscow, and from there, it seemed, their spirit would carry them all the way to New York. It seemed as if everything was complete. There was now a new government in place.56 The author o f this letter, Victor Sakharov, survived the events uninjured, although the other five members were murdered by the crowd. Yet, in Sakharov’s strangely bemused opinion, “ if there had been no uprising [brought from the neighboring village], then our villagers would have just sat around and discussed matters. But, as it happened, there was an uprising, and there were no discussions, and quite simply, the lot o f them ate a bit too much meat that day and they needed to go out and throw a few punches.”57 Provincial officials publicly identified this and other village uprisings as the work o f counterrevolutionary “whiteguardists” and agents o f the Bolsheviks’ so­ cialist opponents, the Left and Right SRs.58 But in their investigations into the disorders, and in their instructions to local administrations, they recognized that the failure to contain panic and rum or was the most important explanation for the seriousness and scale o f the uprisings in the autumn o f 1918.59 Investigators in Tambov uezd found that a variety o f rumors had fueled the disturbances across the countryside. “ In general, we can ascertain the following,” they wrote,

Revolution and Recalcitrance


The majority of peasants, including in part the poor peasants, were deluded and misled by various provocateurs and slanderers, who spread absurd, seditious rumors, such as that Krasnov and his bands were drawing close and had already taken Tambov city, that the Bolsheviks were forcibly removing religious icons from schools and private homes, that the soviets were going to require that each woman hand over ten arshin of canvas, or that from those who did not have canvas, money would be collected, and that they were confiscating 3-6 funt of fleece per person, and money from those who did not keep a flock. The prohibition on teaching religious lessons in schools— it is rumors such as these that disturbed the peasants; ... the majority of poor peasants did not know what or on whose behalf the uprisings were actually being fought.60 M any o f the village communities in the province were aware o f a general sense o f anxiety surrounding the increasing presence o f government agents in the coun­ tryside, as well as the demands connected with the civil war, such as the requisi­ tion o f horses and the conscription o f young men.61 There was a strong element o f desperation in the rebelliousness o f the village groups who attacked the kombedy and who refused to give grain on demand or recruits to the Red Army. M uch had changed in the lives o f people in the countryside, and fear was com ­ bined with confusion over events both near and distant.62 One village man who was involved in a local uprising told investigators: “No one has attempted to set right the views o f myself and us peasants, for we live in a remote village. In our vil­ lage, they don’t read newspapers, and no one explains to us the truth about Soviet power.”63 This was a familiar refrain to the relatively new officials in the Soviet government, as it was to government officials in rural regions o f Russia before the revolution. But the professed ignorance o f individual peasants in the Tambov countryside was not simply strategic, designed to gain pardon. In a political en­ vironment fraught with risk, and with people still struggling to gain their bearings following a full year o f upheaval, not everyone embraced the call to active resist­ ance. Instead, many chose, as one villager explained, to “await their saviors,” w ho­ ever


saviors might be.64

COUNTING THE COSTS: DESERTION, 1918-1919 The conscription drive in the final months o f 1918 may have been beset with trou­ bles in its execution, but the overall result for the Red Arm y was far from insigni­ ficant. Drafting former officers had resulted in over 20,000 experienced arm y


Revolution and Recalcitrance

personnel joining the Soviet armed forces. Over 81,000 junior officers also were drafted in the course o f this November campaign.65 Although by most accounts the mobilization o f these m ilitary “specialists” had been the most troublesome for local m ilitary commissariats, trained military men were required for the contin­ ued expansion o f the Red Arm y and its transform ation into a regular m ilitary force drawing on the mass o f the eligible population, rather than a limited enter­ prise dependent entirely upon Com m unist Party members and the urban popu­ lation. M obilizations o f party members remained an im portant part o f the contribution o f soldiers from Tambov Province, as the local party organizations were first called to contribute one-fifteenth o f their expanding membership to the Red Arm y and then quickly required to mobilize a further one-fifth.66 W hile the overall effect o f the mobilization drives in the autumn and winter o f 1918 was to change the character o f the Red Arm y irrevocably, from a force o f largely urban volunteers to an army dominated by rural conscripts, the main combat duties were reserved for the most reliable volunteers and conscripts from the Communist Party and the cities o f Soviet Russia.67 During the winter months, the actual fighting o f the civil war briefly impinged on the southern territory o f Tambov Province, sending the local administration into chaos as advance units o f General Petr Krasnov’s Don Arm y advanced into Borisoglebsk uezd. Left weakened by the diversion o f Red Arm y forces to regain control in the Novokhoper region in Voronezh Province to the west, local C om ­ munist Party members quickly capitulated in Borisoglebsk when Cossack troops began their attack on 22 December 1918. It was later reported that the Cossacks were better equipped to deal with the freezing temperatures and high winds in the region, and several also wore seized Red Arm y uniforms to confuse the town’s defenders. The evacuation by Soviet and Com munist Party personnel was hasty and chaotic, and the subsequent occupation by the D on Cossacks, lasting over two weeks, was brutal and lacking in any long-term objective.68Abandoned by the main forces o f the Don Arm y that were bogged down in Voronezh and Tsaritsyn, the Cossack occupiers in Borisoglebsk— isolated and dispirited— eventually suc­ cumbed to a small force o f rapidly mobilized Red Arm y units composed o f C om ­ munist Party and Komsomol members.69 W hile the threats to Tambov Province receded, and as attention shifted to the eastern front as the Red Arm y gained the upper hand in the south, the local m ili­ tary commissariats continued to grapple with the demands o f general conscription and processing recruits brought into the ranks during the mobilization drive in the final months o f 1918. The integration o f rural conscripts was made more difficult by the army’s inability to accommodate them and by the problems o f the provin­

Revolution and Recalcitrance


cial administration and transport system in processing and delivering them to their new assignments. Some o f the first reports from front-line commanders as the conscription campaign took shape spoke o f reinforcements arriving unan­ nounced in rail cars, without guns, boots, or adequate provisions. Local military commissariats, overwhelmed in some cases by the sheer number o f recruits, hastily formed these young men into units and dispatched them on trains for the front. In many cases, particularly when soldiers were sent without guns, the recruits sim­ ply jum ped o ff the trains and took flight, at the very least unwilling to go into bat­ tle without a firearm. The availability o f rail cars to transport such newly formed units was rare enough; the majority o f conscripts who absconded in 1918 and early 1919 did so while waiting— often for days— for transport to arrive. Every moderate­ sized railway station in central Russia was also a temporary home to countless young soldiers who billeted in whatever shelter they could find, from derelict railcars to commandeered space in nearby villages (peasant huts, churches, abandoned houses). In the freezing winter, often lacking adequate provisions, the futility o f military service often occurred to these new recruits well before they had seen battle or even boot camp. Given such ample opportunity, thousands o f recruits simply dis­ appeared, one by one or in groups.70 The haste with which local commissariats dispatched these new conscripts is partly explained by reports from division commanders o f the urgent need for rein­ forcements on the front lines. But another major consideration for commissari­ ats in charge o f mobilizations was the desire to move newly formed units out o f their jurisdiction. In the case o f Tambov, the riots in lune 1918 that accompanied the initial attempt at conscription served as an object lesson in the volatility o f newly conscripted young men and in the fundamental weakness o f Soviet ad­ ministration in the provinces.71 The shortage o f barracks space for the newly m o­ bilized men, as well as the problems caused by inadequate rations, left many local administrations wary o f the potential public order problems that could result. Local commissariats were thus more than happy to transfer troops to the front or to other towns and provinces to cope with their predicament. However, while placing new conscripts on trains m ay have relieved some o f the anxiety felt by local officials, it only contributed to the ongoing problem o f desertion. Despite the efforts o f the m ilitary commissariats to place armed guards on each railway car­ riage, one inspector believed that the rate o f desertion among soldiers actually en route was between one-quarter and one-half o f conscripts.72



Revolution and Recalcitrance

During the occupation o f Borisoglebsk, the Soviet government was taking its first steps toward consolidating its commitment to general conscription. By decree o f the Soviet Central Executive Com mittee (VTsIK), the All-Russian Antidesertion Commission was created in late December 1918.73 The Central Antidesertion Com ­ mission was to be a part o f the Defense Council, created in November 1918, and local bodies were to be established in parallel with the administrative system in the provinces. By the beginning o f 1919, provincial antidesertion organizations were already being formed.74 The antidesertion commissions were established at a time when the Soviet countryside was once more undergoing an administrative shake-up. The com ­ mittees o f the poor were formally abandoned by the central government in N o­ vember 1918, at the Sixth Congress o f Soviets in Moscow, as part o f a new emphasis in government policy that was designed, in essence, to be less antagonistic toward the peasantry. W hile the antipathy toward the village kulaks remained, the Soviet government, dependent upon the mass o f the peasantry both for its soldiers and for grain, sought to broaden its base o f support by embracing the poor and m id­ dle peasants.75 The strict rhetoric o f class war that had accompanied the intro­ duction o f the committees o f the poor was reconsidered, and the committees themselves— which had become the target o f so m any violent attacks in the final months o f the 1918— were to be phased out and replaced by newly elected soviets.76 Electoral lists were intended to exclude individuals registered as belonging to the village bourgeoisie, or kulaks, and the local organizations did all they could to guarantee that the new soviet elections would return a favorable leadership com ­ posed o f Com m unist Party members or individuals loyal to the Soviet govern­ ment. The elections took place mainly in January and February 1919, although some localities did not resolve their elections until the end o f the summer. On the whole, the process o f reelecting the soviets occurred without major incident.77 The abil­ ity o f the uezd administrations and Com m unist Party to influence the outcomes o f village and volost elections was limited, especially in the case o f the Com m u­ nist Party itself, which had expanded considerably in the previous months but was steadily depleted by mobilizations to the Red Army, and with a great many withdrawing from the party before they too were mobilized for military service.78 Not surprisingly, and particularly in the case o f village-level soviets, the elections returned a vast majority o f local officials with no party affiliation, meaning that they did not belong to the Com munist Party.79 At the next level in the adminis­ trative hierarchy, results for the volost soviets were significantly different, with a m uch higher proportion o f Com m unist Party members serving on the all-im-

Revolution and Recalcitrance


portant executive committees.80 These local institutions were vital to the governm ent’s efforts to combat de­ sertion, for they were now the institution o f governmental authority closest to the village communities. The chairman o f a village soviet was made the military com ­ missar for that locality and was given responsibility for maintaining accurate lists o f male villagers eligible for service. These chairmen were also the first level o f au­ thority in regulating exemption from m ilitary service, and these responsibilities placed them at the heart o f the struggle with desertion. Young men who refused to serve in the Red Army, whatever their motivation, often had to secure the con­ sent (implicit or explicit) o f the local soviet chairman if they were to carry on a relatively normal life in their native village. Through the soviet chairman, official exemption or tem porary release from duty was secured from the military com ­ missariat in the uezd. The desertion problem in the first months o f 1919 was still very much defined by the failure o f soldiers to appear for mobilization. W hile significant numbers o f conscripts did manage to desert after appearing for mobilization at m ilitary commissariat offices and at muster points, the vast majority o f those considered deserters according to the definitions established by the Antidesertion Com m is­ sion, were those who had failed to heed the call to duty issued by the mobilization officials o f the Red Arm y in the previous year and in the first weeks o f 1919. One inspector believed that in some areas o f the Moscow military sector, as many as 95 percent o f eligible men refused to appear for muster. Overall, the success rate was rarely better than 40 percent among eligible men in the winter o f 1918-1919.81 This continued into the first half o f 1919. The government attempted to correct this pattern by altering their conscription tactic with the volost-based mobiliza­ tion campaign in April-M ay 1919, but it failed to change matters for the better. In their appeal to volost soviets to produce ten to twenty o f their finest men for m il­ itary service, the Soviet government was breaking with the familiar tradition o f conscripting entire age groups. This break with custom resulted in some confu­ sion as to whether the call for ten to twenty soldiers from each volost was a re­ cruitm ent drive or a m obilization campaign. Was the governm ent calling for volunteers, or was each volost required to produce on average fifteen new soldiers for the Red Army? Obviously, the government hoped that a spirit o f voluntarism could be cultivated among the working peasantry. In mid-M ay 1919, the Central Com mittee even announced that any men enlisted during the volost mobiliza­ tion drive would be officially considered “volunteers” and would receive corre­ spondingly m ore advantageous benefits packages. But at no tim e did the government call the volost campaign a voluntary recruitment drive; it was a m o­


Revolution and Recalcitrance

bilization, and in some localities, strict instructions were delivered to volost soviet administrations detailing the required number o f soldiers to be produced by each locality. Overall, however, considerable confusion blighted the A pril-M ay cam ­ paign, and the results were extremely unsatisfactory for the Defense Council and the Red Army. O nly some 24,000 soldiers were enlisted as a result o f the volost m obilization campaign— less than one-fifth the total anticipated by officials.82 Provincial military commissariats cited the continuing “petit-bourgeois” mental­ ity o f the great mass o f the peasantry in Soviet Russia. The fact that the m obiliza­ tion drive coincided with the spring sowing season and the intense field work this entailed, only served to bring that mentality to the fore, as young men obeyed the “ higher calling” o f responsibility to their fields and family.83 By the time the volost mobilization campaign came to close, the scale o f the de­ sertion problem was truly becoming apparent. People who had failed to appear for mobilization— draft dodgers— accounted for over three-quarters o f all deserters. In some provinces, as much as 90 percent o f young men registered as eligible for conscription had failed to appear for m obilization.84 The ineffectiveness o f the policy o f general conscription was becoming clear just as the crisis on the eastern front was reaching its height. The Defense Council dispatched plenipotentiaries to the various provinces to inspect and report on the conduct o f local administration that related to the desertion problem and other difficulties associated with the “rear guard” behind the front lines.85 The individual sent to Tambov, V. N. Podbel’skii, was a native o f the province who had long been a member o f the Bolshevik Party and had held senior positions in the Soviet government from the time o f the revo­ lution in 1917. PodbePskii s first telegrams back to M oscow reporting on the situ­ ation in Tambov concentrate on the desertion problem and on the weakness o f local soviet administration that permitted the problem to worsen. Soviet execu­ tive committees, according to PodbePskii, were often com plicit in concealing known deserters, and the soviet chairmen regularly failed to respect the instruc­ tion concerning, in particular, the volost mobilization campaign. He attributed this to the shortage o f Com munist Party members in the countryside represented in the rural soviets.86The soviets were instruments o f the com m unity rather than o f the Soviet government.87 The effective enforcement o f conscription orders, and rounding up known or suspected deserters, required agents o f the state who could bypass local adminis­ tration. At the time o f the volost mobilization campaign, such agents were only in a state o f formation. Am ong the host o f measures taken at the end o f 1918 and in early 1919 to combat desertion was the formation o f patrols o f Com munist Party

Revolution and Recalcitrance


members and Red Arm y soldiers that would scour the villages for recalcitrant men who had either failed to appear for mobilization or had actively deserted their units. The antidesertion patrols in Tambov in the late spring o f 1919 were, as one local Communist Party official reported, “merely a drop in the ocean,” but their appear­ ance in the countryside had a swift effect on the local political environment.88 In his memoirs o f life in Podgornoe village (Borisoglebsk uezd), Anton Okninskii described the first encounter o f the local com munity and administration with an antidesertion patrol. At dawn one m orning, the locals were drawn out o f their homes by the sound o f singing approaching the village. Upon seeing a group o f Red Arm y soldiers singing revolutionary anthems, people initially believed that they were drunk. Others, however, were quickly aware that it was a patrol searching for deserters. News o f their presence in the region had already reached Podgornoe, and those who had sons and husbands intent on evading m ilitary service reacted as if well prepared for this occurrence. Okninskii began questioning one peasant man who was helping his two sons cover their faces with black axle grease. Their plan, Okninskii was told, was to go through the fields to the neighboring volost. “By the time the soldiers make their way to [our] volost soviet and enjoy the gos­ sip there, m y boys will be nearly ten kilometers outside Podgornoe, over in the area where those soldiers have already searched.”89 W hen he soon encountered the commander o f the patrol— the sole member o f the patrol on horseback— Okninskii introduced him self as the volost soviet ac­ countant. “Very pleased to meet you,” said the commander. “Your job must deal with statistics and so on. M y duties are different altogether— m y job is to shoot people! And it is for this purpose we have arrived here in your volost. No one from your volost presented him self for the last m ilitary call-up.”90 W hile one may be disinclined to take O kninskiis portrait o f the commander at face value, the anti­ desertion patrols were authorized to conduct public trials o f captured deserters within the villages. In addition to their role as agents o f the developing propa­ ganda campaign to discourage desertion, the patrols also acted as tribunals with




authority to execute the captured in exceptional cases.91 In O kninskiis account, the determined commander o f the antidesertion squad resisted attempts by the local soviet officials in Podgornoe to “soften him up”— he refused offers o f food and, especially, drink. Instead, he stuck to his task, de­ manding to see the soviet’s lists o f local men who were eligible for military service. W hile the squad commander was examining the list o f “counterrevolutionaries,” as he insisted on calling them, the chairman o f the volost soviet was trying to dis-


Revolution and Recalcitrance

suade him from targeting certain individuals whose names were on the list: “This one's a good muzhik, reliable, always stood by the soviet.” “Comrade,” inquired the squad commander, “are you a party member?” “No, I'm nonparty.” “Then your opinion regarding these men holds no significance for me whatsoever.” The work o f the antidesertion squad proceeded, following methods and strate­ gies that had been honed in a short space o f time through constant interaction with village communities intent on protecting their own. The first targets were men known to have served in the tsarist army who were still eligible for service in the Red Army. Their refusal to serve the Soviet cause was taken as a clear indica­ tion o f counterrevolutionary sympathies, owing to their past association with the old regime, and the antidesertion squad commander in Podgornoe intended to ex­ ecute these men publicly as a warning o f the serious intentions o f the antideser­ tion squad. There remained the far more numerous group o f young men who simply did not want to serve through personal disinclination or the pressure from family members. The squad commander forbade all villagers to leave the village while the squad conducted its searches. Included in the ban were all children, to prevent them from running out to the fields to warn their brothers and fathers o f the presence o f an antidesertion squad. The squad machine gun would be trained on the near­ est open field, where it was suspected young men were hiding in the tall grass. Each evening o f their stay in Podgornoe, the squad commander would order the soldiers to open fire on the fields. “ In the last instance,” explained the commander over the protestations o f the soviet chairman, “everyone will at least know that we are not here playing some sort o f joke, but that we intend to deal with these de­ serters and with those who hide them.”92 The crackdown on deserters in the countryside o f central Russia truly began when the attentions o f the Red Arm y shifted from the eastern front and the armies under Admiral Kolchak to the offensive launched from the south o f Russia by the W hite and D on armies. The resurgence o f the Whites in the south o f Russia had gained considerable momentum by mid-May 1919, at a time when Red Arm y forces were concentrated in the Urals and western Siberia.93 W ith the Whites pushing toward the heart o f the Soviet Republic along an expansive front line, the forma­ tion o f military reserves continued in a chaotic manner, as local military officials in the provinces patched together units from recently m obilized men and their brethren apprehended by antidesertion patrols. These recently formed units were

Revolution and Recalcitrance


not, in the words o f one Red Arm y inspector reporting to Trotsky, “composed o f trained, politically conscious people banded together around com mon ideas, but are instead dubious squadrons composed o f every imaginable social element.”94As the drive to form reserve units intensified, military commissariats eased the restric­ tions on eligibility for military service, filling garrisons with individuals who did not belong to conscripted age groups, those who had previously served in the tsarist army, and those who had earlier been apprehended as deserters. The latter were, according to one commander, an “invaluable resource” for military commis­ sariats in the provinces confronted with orders to form reserve units in short order.95 As the threat from the approaching front intensified, the major towns o f the rear were declared “fortified” regions by the Revolutionary Military Council (RVSR), creating a line o f defense just south o f the southern front command headquarters in Kozlov.96 In Tambov, the Red Arm y was to attend to the formation o f a single brigade-strength force, transferring units from other garrisons to secure defenses in the provincial capital. Workers were to be mobilized to prepare defensive posi­ tions within the newly formed region, digging trenches alongside the growing contingent o f Red Arm y soldiers.97 Soon after, the southern uezds o f Tambov were placed under martial law, and provincial authorities were issuing appeals for calm alongside calls to vigilance.98 The public stance o f the provincial authorities was to express faith that the people, particularly in the countryside, would rally to the defense o f the Soviet regime and especially that erstwhile deserters would return to the fold. An amnesty was announced in June for deserters precisely to encour­ age such a response to the impending threat by the Whites, and in the province o f Tambov the amnesty was extended well into July.99By the beginning o f that month, uezd-level administration was handed over to extraordinary three-person revo­ lutionary committees ( revkomy), and one o f the first acts o f these revkoms was to intensify the struggle against desertion. Sanctioning the seizure o f hostages among the village population, threatening to confiscate all household property o f known or suspected deserters, and levying massive fines on entire villages for concealing deserters, the uezd officials authorized the increasingly numerous antidesertion patrols and Red Arm y units in the territory to resolve the desertion problem by any means necessary.100 Officials in the province began noting a “massive” return o f deserters as soon as June, when the first amnesty was announced, and while they preferred to cast this change in fortunes as a sign o f authentic support for the Soviet government in its hour o f need, the truth o f the matter is much less clear. In the month o f June alone, antidesertion patrols succeeded in apprehending 44,000 deserters. In the same month, over 156,000 men voluntarily surrendered to military officials. The


Revolution and Recalcitrance

situation continued to improve in July, with an increasing proportion o f desert­ ers surrendering to m ilitary commissariats as distinct from those apprehended by antidesertion patrols.101 The massive influx o f deserters soon overwhelmed local commissariats, who were once more facing an overstretched transport system and overcrowded garrisons. Telegrams to the Revolutionary M ilitary Council and to Supreme Headquarters com plained o f overcrowding and o f the fear o f public order problems caused by food shortages and poor security for the growing num ­ bers o f deserters returning to the army. Food riots threatened garrison towns, where, as in the case o f Kaluga, recently processed deserters numbering in the thousands were kept corralled under armed guards on the street, due to the lack o f space in the barracks.102 Except in extraordinary cases, deserters who surrendered or were apprehended in the summer o f 1919 were assigned to reserve units, rather than to front-line duty.103 What is more, according to instructions dated 7 July from Red Army Supreme Head­ quarters, individuals were not to be assigned to reserve units in their native re­ gions nor were they to receive assignments in the area where they had been captured, especially if those regions were near the front lines.104 W hen the divi­ dends o f the recent crackdown on desertion began to appear, local military com ­ missariats were able to process the returnees and dispatch them to areas where either reinforcements were required or where men were needed to fill reserve gar­ risons. Officials in Tam bov predom inantly directed new inductees to the right flank o f the southern front (Fourteenth Arm y group), as well as to areas on the western and southeastern fronts. These units o f deserters were often dispatched in groups o f several hundred. Redesertion remained a problem for these hastily dis­ patched reinforcements, especially considering that m any were sent with (at best) a bare m inim um o f supplies, and often without guns.105 As in the beginning o f the year, many former deserters simply deserted once more after being loaded onto transports.106 In addition, disorganization con­ tributed to this problem, as the troops were often transferred with a m inim um o f coordination between military commissariats. Areas near the western front, such as Smolensk, and to the immediate north o f Tambov, such as Riazan, found them­ selves the unexpected recipients o f new deserters. Already facing difficulties with their own swelling garrison populations, the military commissariats in these areas pleaded with Red Arm y Supreme Headquarters to reconsider its policy o f trans­ ferring these groups o f deserters out o f their native territories at all costs. Likewise, they urged the army not to press on with plans for further conscription o f younger age groups.107 Local commanders in charge o f the garrisons were allowing many

Revolution and Recalcitrance


o f these recent arrivals effectively to redesert, as they were unable to provide them with adequate food or shelter.108 M ilitary officials in Tambov noticed the same behavior, so overwhelming was the supply crisis during the summer o f 1919.109 Desertion rates began to climb almost immediately after the crisis on the south­ ern front had passed.110 Reports such as these moved Red Arm y officials to reconsider their initial in­ structions regarding the transfer o f deserters. Originally intended as a pragmatic measure designed to limit desertion— distancing young men from their native re­ gions as a means o f diminishing localist tendencies— the effort o f m oving units composed o f former deserters was found to exacerbate the problem. Hoping to re­ duce the congestion on the railways and to defuse antagonisms between provin­ cial and regional m ilitary commissariats, Red A rm y Supreme Headquarters accepted the advice o f the Antidesertion Commission and on 4 September 1919 re­ scinded the instructions regarding the transfer o f deserter units. Processed desert­ ers designated for service in the reserves could be assigned to units in their native territory.111 Following this decision, further chaos with the coordination o f reinforcements and reserves behind the front lines was especially unwelcome, as the Red Arm y prepared to launch a major counteroffensive on the southern and southeastern fronts. In Tambov, the provincial administration was just surveying the damage caused by the two-week raid into its territory by a force o f W hite cavalry and in­ fantry, during which this force o f D on Cossacks, led by General K. V. Mamontov, briefly occupied the provincial capital and the town o f Kozlov, the base o f the Red Arm y Southern Front Com m and.112W hile causing extensive damage to the trans­ port and communications infrastructure, as well as committing countless atroc­ ities in the towns and villages, the White cavalry raid did not significandy delay the Red Arm y counteroffensive, and the W hite armies encroached no further into Tambov Province. Provincial officials, like their superiors in Moscow, desperately wanted to be­ lieve that the return o f deserters in the summer o f 1919 to fill the ranks o f the Red Arm y was an indication o f the true political sympathies o f the Russian peasantry. In particular, following the direct experience with the harsh conduct o f the White forces in Tambov, provincial officials spoke often o f having reached a perelom, or turning point, in relations between the Soviet government and the peasantry. This sort o f rhetoric was certainly informed by local experience, but it was character­ istic o f official discourse throughout the Soviet republic at this time, which sought to “emplot” the phenomenon o f the massive return o f young conscripts into the


Revolution and Recalcitrance

revolutionary narrative. The government in the last ten months had altered its policies toward the rural population in significant ways by abandoning the kombedy and voicing commitments to the “m iddle” peasantry, and the return o f former deserters in 1919 constituted an important dividend derived from this alteration in the party line. For provincial officials, the brief experience o f W hite rule in Tambov meant that the expected perelom had been reached.113 Officials began to speak o f the im ­ minent prospect o f resolving the desertion problem once and for all.114 Such talk caused them to turn a blind eye to the many attendant problems that complicated the picture for provincial government, notably, the violence provoked in the coun­ tryside both by intensified antidesertion efforts and the virtually simultaneous escalation o f panic in local administration, faced with the prospect o f evacuation as the threat from the White offensive from the south grew more tangible.115 In response to both these developments, bands o f village men, mostly deserters them­ selves, began to take matters into their own hands, attacking local soviet adm in­ istrations and railway stations and issuing cries o f defiance to both the Soviet government and the advancing White forces. The “greens,” as they became known, imperfectly filled the void being left by the Soviet government in certain parts o f the countryside during the summer o f 1919, asserting a measure o f agency on the part o f a village population facing occupation by counterrevolutionary forces, yet the roving bands o f “greens” never managed to improvise any effective authority among that same population during the height o f their activities. It would be impossible to deny that the organization o f “green bands”— reported in some cases to number in the thousands during June and July in Tambov Province and in many other provinces o f Soviet Russia— was a response to the security situ­ ation confronting both village men o f mobilization age and the village population as a whole. But the rapid disappearance o f the “greens” as a mass phenomenon in the autumn o f 1919, as the security situation in Soviet Russia once again improved, meant that the influence o f the “greens” on the outlook o f Soviet officials was cor­ respondingly temporary. In the wake o f the military crisis in Tambov, some offi­ cials emphasized the continuing need to address popular, particularly economic, grievances if any substantive progress in peasant-state relations was to be achieved and any perelom was to be secured.116 However, in the wake o f the Whites’ sum ­ mer offensive, officials in the province were more likely to understand the perelom in relations with the village communities as the consequence o f the popular prac­ tical experience with W hite “rule” in Tambov in August 1919 and the com m on So­ viet citizen’s recognition o f a higher calling in defense o f the revolution. W hat is more, experience with the counterrevolution effectively legitimized the conduct

Revolution and Recalcitrance


and policies o f the Soviet government’s revolution.

TESTING THE Perelom: REQUISITIONING GRAIN, 1919-1920 The turning point, or perelom, was tested almost immediately after provincial offi­ cials had declared its achievement. The disruptions brought by the encroaching front line, and the chaos and destruction visited upon the province by W hite cav­ alry forces particularly hit the system o f food procurement that had been the focus o f government administration in Tambov since before the revolution. This fact was made more damaging by the tim ing o f the cavalry raid, which concluded at harvest time, when food procurement should have been entering its most intense period o f activity. While soviet officials from the lower levels o f administration— particularly in the uezds— appealed for a reform o f administration and for more effective decentralization o f authority as a means o f consolidating the support o f the village communities in the wake o f M am ontov’s raid, provincial authorities demanded precisely the opposite. W hile publicly declaring the achievement o f a perelom in peasant-state relations, provincial officials demanded more extensive centralization to counter the influence o f the kulaks and o f “parochial” officials whose actions only undermined the state’s efforts. At the forefront was the state’s critically important campaign to procure grain under the policy o f the razverstka, whereby collection targets were set in a top-down manner, from the central gov­ ernment to the province, and all the way down to the individual household. The food commissar in Tambov, Iakov Gol’din, addressed his critics from the uezd ad­ ministrations at the Fifth Congress o f Soviets in Tambov in mid-November 1919:

The food question is the most important one in Tambov Province. Up until 25 October, the rate of grain collection was on average only 8,000 poods per day, but now it has risen to 50,000-60,000 poods. The most important month, November, is passing by, and we have until the first half of February [to complete the campaign]. After this, the intensive period will have come to an end. If we have failed to raise collection rates massively by then to make up for lost time, we will find ourselves saying that our food campaign has been a complete failure.117

The Food Commissariat in Tambov Province assumed an ultra-hard line follow­ ing M am ontov’s raid, conducting requisitions in the manner o f a military cam­ paign and systematically ignoring the dissent o f local soviet officials— in the uezds and districts, as well as the villages— with the assumption that such complaints


Revolution and Recalcitrance

were fundamentally parochial and thus illegitimate.118Working on the assumption that “the food question is exclusively a question o f force,” 119 GoPdin personally m on­ itored the progress o f requisition agents, urging them to disregard complaints from any quarter, as well as to make liberal use o f punitive measures such as arrests and the full confiscation o f grain stocks. In an exchange with one such agent, Badaev, who had encountered resistance from local Communist Party officials in Kirsanov concerned about damage to the local econom y and to relations with the peas­ antry, GoPdin demanded that no thought o f concessions be entertained: Either you didn’t understand [my earlier instructions] or you’re going soft— my orders are: (1) Not one head of cattle is to be given over to the poor; transfer all confiscated livestock as well as sufficient feed to the state farms [sovkhozy]. Horses are also to be given over to the state farms,with some reserved for our use; confiscate carts from those who haven’t fulfilled the razverstka; (2) Make a list of all those who participated in the Kirsanov Conference and draw up an order for the Cheka to confiscate all their property and to arrest each and every one of them__ I am giving you a top-priority order to break this kulak sabotage immediately, do this by any and all means, and at first only in one volost [as an example to other districts]— no mercy, no retreat. The uezd party committee and the executive [in Kirsanov] will pay for their indiscipline.120 Outside inspectors, as well as other individuals who witnessed the requisitioning campaign in 1919-1920, filed reports and wrote appeals that backed up the com ­ plaints o f local officials and village representatives, claiming that the militarized effort to procure grain was severely damaging the local econom y as well as the morale o f the village communities. Any systematic effort to assess grain harvests, evaluate grain stocks, and distribute contribution burdens either on the basis o f class or on the basis o f simple means, had been discarded in order to raise the col­ lection rates that G ol’din demanded to meet the targets set by Moscow. The result was overrequisitioning. This problem, together with the wholesale confiscations o f draft animals and other moveable forms o f property that were often carried out as punishment for even the mildest form o f protest, made the prospects for the next season already a source o f extreme anxiety. One Red Army official, E. Artamanov, who witnessed a portion o f the campaign unfold in Kozlov uezd, wrote to authori­ ties in M oscow that they should heed the complaints about the economic impact o f the latest requisition campaign. They needed to make the effort to “understand the internal life o f the peasant villages here, lest the peasantry perish by starvation or at the hands o f the requisition squads.” 121

Revolution and Recalcitrance


The early warning signs o f hunger in the villages were already visible after the end o f the campaign to requisition grain. Because the vast majority o f grain stocks were concentrated in the southern two-thirds o f the province, the Food C om ­ missariat’s efforts to procure grain were naturally concentrated in that area. And it was here, as well, that local officials began to report the sight o f malnourished children wandering the dirt tracks o f the large villages, begging for handouts.122 One militia member, reporting to his superior in the Tambov uezd militia organ­ ization, noted similar sights during his rounds in late February 1920: Now it is already evident in EkstaTka, Bogoslovsko-Novinkovka, and in Kunevska districts, the beginnings of a dangerous ferment due to the onset of hunger in the area; there have been large groups o f peasants gathering outside local soviets, literally clamoring for grain. In Bogoslovsko-Novinkovka volost, there was even one case in which a single peasant drove his only cow to the nearby sovkhoz and pleaded with them to take his cow in exchange for a mere five measures of millet, saying that he and his entire family will certainly starve to death unless he is able to make a deal for the cow. The last razverstka severely affected the population, and many do not have the ability to meet another razverstka due to a clear shortage of grain.123 The immediate onset o f starvation, no matter how widespread, was overshadowed by a greater anxiety regarding the next harvest.124 W ith substantially diminished amounts o f seed grain, which had been requisitioned or confiscated during the procurement campaign, village households feared for their survival even without another round o f grain requisitioning in the autum n.125

CLOSER TO THE HOHE IRONT: DESERTERS AND DESERTION IN 1920 If provincial authorities imagined, along with their superiors in the central gov­ ernment and Red Army, that the desertion problem had been overcome when the tide definitively turned against the White armies in the summer o f 1919, the new year brought a strong dose o f reality. Whereas desertion in the first year o f mass conscription to the Red Arm y essentially involved the mobilization o f recalcitrant young men intent on evading conscription, after the summer o f 1919 and the in­ tensified efforts to round up draft dodgers and the threat o f victory for Denikin and the Whites with their “drive on Moscow,” the problem for military officials be­ came one o f managing the Red Arm y’s swollen ranks. Maintaining stability within


Revolution and Recalcitrance

the ranks on the front lines was only a small portion o f this problem, as the main challenges involved control over the large garrisoned population o f former de­ serters and reserve soldiers, which numbered in the tens o f thousands in some major provincial towns, and which were a considerable element in any uezd town in provincial settings such as Tambov. Controlling overcrowded garrisons required a strong measure o f administrative virtuosity in the best o f times, and it was a challenge significantly complicated by the critical economic situation o f the final year o f the civil war, both in the towns and in the countryside. W eak local adm inistration continued to hamper efforts by the provincial M ilitary Commissariat to carry out conscription drives, but the final major round o f mobilizations in March and April 1920 in Tambov did produce results that sur­ prised commisariat officials. The campaign to call up the single age group born in 1901 was informed by the mistakes made in the previous year, when the m obi­ lization o f five separate age groups in the spring o f 1919 had coincided with both the Easter holiday and the m uddy spring thaw, which presented both moral and practical complications.126Awareness o f the importance o f proper timing for the 1920 campaign, com bined with the more limited objectives represented by the call-up o f a single age group, appeared to produce far greater success. By the end o f March 1920, officials in Tambov reported that o f the 23,010 young men con­ sidered eligible for conscription, nearly 14,000 had appeared at muster points, and o f them, over 8,000 had been enlisted and assigned to units. By the end o f the m o­ bilization campaign in M ay 1920, the gap between those registered as eligible and those actually appearing for mobilization had narrowed considerably, with 24,230 having appeared at muster points.127 Nearly all o f those actually enlisted— 14,855


according to the final count— were given assignments in reserve garrisons, prin­ cipally in two o f the larger towns, Tambov and Lebedian.128 The success o f the 1901 call-up was attributed to practical innovations in the process o f military mobilization rather than to any general improvement in rela­ tions between the state and the village peasantry. One reason for the restrained re­ ception was the continued problem o f desertion, particularly from the reserve garrisons that were the final destination for the majority o f those recently called up for military service in 1920. Early in 1920, the rate o f desertion from reserve garrisons had exceeded 60 percent throughout the Orel military sector, to which Tambov Province belonged, and the rate declined only marginally as winter gave way to spring.129 The garrisons were filled not only with recent call-ups, but also with those already classified as deserters— those who had either previously de­ serted from their units or recidivists who had surrendered to military officials or

Revolution and Recalcitrance


had been apprehended by antidesertion squads. Those who carried the stigma o f deserter and were stationed in reserve gar­ risons were principally used by the provincial administration to perform various labor duties. In the winter o f 1919-1920, the then chairman o f the Tambov Soviet Executive Committee, V. A. Antonov-Ovseenko, reported that an ongoing fuel cri­ sis in the southern half o f the province was being partially alleviated by assigning over 22,000 deserters to timber-cutting duties.130 Beyond concerted campaigns to address particular problems, such as clearing transport lines after heavy snowfall, those branded deserters were given other noncombat tasks, such as employment in the state-operated bakeries, state farms, telegraph and postal services, at grain collection points, on railways, and in a variety o f sentry and guard duties required by the provincial administration.131 In addition, as already described, deserters ac­ counted for a large number o f grain requisition agents and were also assigned to the antidesertion patrols. Such sustained assignments, however, were the exception. Despite the efforts o f the M ilitary Commissariat to utilize the labor o f the mas­ sive soldier population systematically in 1920, the vast m ajority o f apprehended deserters were effectively incarcerated in the garrisons o f the main towns o f Tam­ bov Province, as they were elsewhere in Soviet Russia.132 The continued desertion problem from garrisons and from com pulsory labor duties throughout 1920 was caused by the continuing food crisis throughout Soviet territory. In the garrisons themselves, military authorities struggled to main­ tain a swollen population o f reserve soldiers, deserters, as well as cavalry horses. Problems primarily concerned food supply, but also involved basic hygiene and ac­ ceptable quarters for soldiers. As one M ilitary Commissariat report on the situa­ tion in Kirsanov put it in 1920: “ The garrison does not receive any m onetary allowances, its soldiers are ill-clad, ill-shod, and often malnourished; there is no proper barracks facility, barely any cots or bunks, no kitchen facilities whatsoever, and all sit in the cold without any artificial light. As a result o f all this, we have epi­ demics, desertion, a diminishing cavalry stables, and many other disasters besides.” In the same garrison in Kirsanov, nearly 70 percent o f the horses kept in the stables had already starved to death by the late summer o f 1920, and as for the gar­ risoned soldiers themselves, according to the same report, “ in the past, [the pro­ vision o f food] has limped along on both legs, and it continues to limp along to this day.” 133 Securing enough food for the garrisons, as well as safeguarding against outbreaks o f infectious diseases, left local commanders and military commissars often struggling to manage rising levels o f visible discontent among the soldiers. It was not unknown for officials to look the other way as soldiers absconded to their home villages, especially if those villages were within the province, as this would


Revolution and Recalcitrance

help alleviate the supply problem in the garrison.134 A second facet o f the connection between food supply problems and desertion surrounded the villages communities themselves, with diminishing conditions under the pressure o f the grain procurement campaigns. Certainly soldiers were not without incentives to leave their garrisons, given the lack o f food and general conditions. Moreover, there was tremendous pressure from family to return home. Concerns about leaving the homestead at such a vulnerable time certainly weighed on the minds o f soldiers and prospective soldiers alike. Promises that the C om ­ munist Party and the Soviet state were protecting the welfare o f the serviceman’s family formed a vital part o f the “political education” o f the Red Arm y soldier, an innovation in large part inform ed by the growth o f the desertion problem in 1919.135 The propaganda campaigns aimed at deserters intensified in the second half o f 1919, complemented by the development o f welfare provisions for the fam­ ilies o f Red Arm y servicemen, intended to reassure prospective and existing sol­ diers who had left their families and villages behind. Recent historians have placed considerable emphasis on this modern approach to the connection between mar­ tial and civil society by the Soviet government, both to explain the phenomenon o f desertion during the civil war and especially as a means o f understanding the nature o f the Soviet state itself following the revolution.136 Yet despite promises from the Soviet government and its M ilitary Com m is­ sariat that soldiers’ families would be protected and provided for by the local com ­ munities and soviet administration, such promises were quickly compromised, both by the severe demands placed on rural communities by the state, and by the lim ited capacity o f local soviets to manage such welfare provisions. M uch de­ pended upon local circumstances. The wife o f a Red Arm y serviceman (a soldatka)y without the support o f her blood relatives, could find that the village com m unity and local administration was unwilling to extend promised welfare provisions, as a letter intercepted by m ilitary censors demonstrates:

Dearest husband, I have received from you three letters, and from these I have learned that you are alive and well, for which I am very thankful. I have written three letters to you, as well as a telegram and a correspondence from our local soviet. Dearest husband, Daniil VasiTevich, do you receive my letters or not, and why do you not show any concern for my situation here, it is as if you have tossed me off into the muck. I went recently to your family's house, but your brothers refused to receive me, they would not even allow me to approach the home; I also went to your local soviet regarding the plot of land— but there they also refused to hear me and would not give me any land. What am I to do now? My dear husband, Daniil

Revolution and Recalcitrance


Vasil’evich, how am I to survive, when I write you letters asking what to do and you pay no attention whatsoever. Unless, that is, you have not received any of my letters. In that case, I write to you all, my dear comrades [apparently an address to the censors], take pity on my inescapable predicament, grant my husband leave, even if only for three days, as my situation here is extremely poor. Believe me, I am not amongst my own here, having arrived here, I do not have my own family, no one who will help me get by, and everything that I had the child and I have now eaten. Most important, I am unable to work in the fields, and I do not receive any help from the family here, it is useless to even ask. My dearest husband, come back, even if for only three days, or I shall surely be done for.137 Unable to depend upon the goodw ill o f the local com m unity or even village administration, the Soviet government established a special commission that over­ saw the protection o f Red Arm y households. The Pomoshch’ Com mission estab­ lished affiliates in the provinces and uezds o f Soviet Russia over the course o f 1919, particularly to coordinate the delivery o f direct aid to such households, or to pro­ vide assistance to homesteads during the periods o f intensive field work. H ow­ ever, the responsibilities o f the local affiliates o f the Pomoshch’ Commission far exceeded their capabilities, and for some localities, assistance was provided on paper only.138 In practice, assistance and relief to Red Arm y households was delivered by the antidesertion patrols that were active in the countryside.139 Typically, there was one antidesertion patrol o f 50-100 members operating in each uezd, and it was part o f their responsibility to ensure that the antidesertion message came through in their punitive actions against the households o f deserters by distributing con­ fiscated property directly to the households o f Red Arm y servicemen.140The scope for corruption in such an arrangement was extensive, and investigations into the activities o f antidesertion squads were a constant source o f tension within the provincial administration.141 W hile far from being uniform ly corrupt, the anti­ desertion patrols, like the food procurement squads, were more often considered exemplary o f Soviet power when their actions belied the words and policies o f the Soviet government, not when they conformed to those policies.142 As such, the powerlessness o f Red Arm y families, and the anxieties they shared with other com ­ munity members about the worsening situation in the villages in 1920, came through to the men in the garrisons, either through letters or by word o f m outh.143 Concerns about material conditions at home and dissatisfaction with the pri­ vations endured by the Red Arm y were only two o f the burdens on servicemen.144 While the provisions crisis prompted some military officials to turn a blind eye when soldiers absconded from their units, this did not make desertion an easy option.


Revolution and Recalcitrance

Garrisoned soldiers were concerned with their reception in their native villages. Being branded a deserter had practical consequences for households, so that in­ dividuals and families appealed against the stigma in terms that must have been gratifying for officials in the Antidesertion Commission. The vast majority o f cases heard by the Antidesertion Commission involved men who either claimed m ed­ ical exemption from service or who had been ill and granted a leave o f absence to recover. Staying at home past the designated recuperation time was formally con­ sidered desertion. Docum entation was vitally important, not only for those who claimed exemption, but for any man o f mobilization age who was approached by antidesertion agents in the countryside.145 Many who had their cases reviewed were brought before the local commissions by antidesertion patrols. Effectively apprehended under suspicion o f desertion, m any men were left in holding cells at local soviets and offices o f the M ilitary Commissariat until authorities reviewed their cases. For those who claimed medical exemption, it could be a matter o f days and even weeks before their cases were resolved and they were released.146 “ For the second time,” wrote Aleksei Gorin, a village schoolteacher from Rudovsk volost (Kirsanov uezd), “ I request that the Antidesertion Com mission lift from me this shameful label o f ‘deserter,’ take pity on my large, orphaned family, help me and my family out o f our impossible situation, and release me from the detention house and hand back m y papers, so that I can appear before the medical commission— as is m y right— in order to set this matter straight once and for all.” 147 Men who protested their innocence often did so out o f fear that their families would suffer. Although Gorin’s status was as yet unresolved, he was classified as a deserter, and his family could be made to suffer for this in the village, where food procurement agents, in particular, targeted the households o f known deserters. It is unsurprising, then, that many appeals protesting the innocence o f suspected deserters were issued by their wives. Often these wom en were aided by sym pa­ thetic and, most important, literate members o f their local soviet, and their appeals focused on the hardships facing the family in the absence o f the husband. Moreover, men who were actively serving in the Red Arm y submitted appeals protesting official classification as a deserter. Because so many o f the soldiers in the army were, as one historian has highlighted, “second-chance men,” 148 for some the status as a deserter was difficult to overcome even after reintegration into the ranks. The files o f the Antidesertion Com mission are filled with appeals by Red Arm y soldiers who had initially been apprehended as deserters. They appealed (in the words o f one such soldier) against the “disgraceful stain” o f being classified as a deserter.149 In many cases, men felt genuinely aggrieved because they had been away from their units for medical reasons and had either overstayed their leave o f

Revolution and Recalcitrance


absence beyond an acceptable limit or had failed to produce adequate docum en­ tation for antidesertion officials. These men, too, were deserters in the eyes o f state authorities. The issue, once more, was o f genuine importance for the families o f these men, not simply an issue o f pride or honor for the soldier.150Their status as deserters placed their families in a delicate situation, especially when the drive to requisition grain in the countryside became more intense. The “deserter,” as we can see, occupied an am biguous place in the political world o f the villages. Very few, if any, would have embraced the label with pride. Men m ay not have been ashamed o f having deserted the army as long as they could rely upon the local com m unity for implicit support and approval. As long as the local soviet chairman was willing to look the other way and the majority o f the village population did not protest, men who had evaded the draft or actively deserted could realize their ambition— to live the quotidian lives they had known before the war. There was no dishonor in such a situation.151 Soldiers were known to ask pointedly in their letters home whether the situa­ tion there would enable them to return. As one soldier wrote from his garrison: “Please write to me again, which o f m y buddies [rebiata] has already run back home, and is it possible to live at home as a deserter, because for us here things are really bad.” Despite the best efforts o f state censors, such letters did get home and re­ ceived replies. “Dearest brother, Serezha, we miss you so much, all your friends are now home, and only you are missing.” “All your friends are home. Whoever is a de­ serter just gets on with his life, and now folks are beginning to joke [about people who enter the Red Arm y], ‘Well, there goes another one to serve in the army, ob­ viously refused to volunteer for work at home.’” “Comrades from our regiment are almost all home. I would really like to see you home, too, and even though com ­ rades here don’t live entirely peacefully, it is still a whole lot better than in the city.” “ Mitia, in our village no one serves in the Red Arm y— everyone is home now.” 152 The clear intention behind such letters was to encourage the soldier to desert and not to fear the reactions o f fellow villagers, or indeed o f the local soviet adminis­ tration and agents o f the state.153 This did not mean that desertion carried a positive connotation in the vil­ lages. However much the campaign to discourage desertion may have permeated the countryside through propaganda posters on the trains or by the antidesertion patrols, the negative label deserter was wielded strategically by villagers just as frequently as it was by the agents o f the Soviet state.154 Distrusted or despised local soviet workers or Com m unist Party members were described by villagers as deserters, since so many had been exempted from m ilitary service in order to w ork in the countryside administration and party organizations.155 M any who


Revolution and Recalcitrance

joined the party in 1918 and early 1919 were seeking a more secure life, rich with perquisites and power, but also risks. However, the increasing number o f m obi­ lizations o f Com m unist Party members to the Red Arm y tested the political loy­ alty o f such individuals, and party officials noted with some alarm and dismay the vast numbers who resigned from the party just when m ilitary mobilization ap­ peared im m inent.156 In most cases, such state and party officials were already distrusted by locals, and their exemption from military service only sharpened the disdain felt by vil­ lagers. Likewise, those who worked in state collective farms and who formed small farmsteads outside the communal system (artely), were accused o f being nothing more than self-serving deserters interested only in evading military service.157 Once more, this was not a principled stand against desertion, as local villagers were never short o f grievances against the state farms and artely. Villagers were frequently required to contribute their labor and machinery, as well as seed grain and live­ stock, to collective farms. A nd because o f its proximity, such farmland was always under the covetous gaze o f village farmers, who were often appalled at the misuse — and, frequently, disuse— o f the fields controlled by these collectives.158 A com ­ m on expression o f anger against these farms was that they were operated by “de­ serters,” people whose only interest was not in cultivating the land but in obtaining an official exemption from m ilitary service. Villagers were acutely aware o f who among their neighbors was evading military service, just as they were watchful o f those among their enemies who could be so accused. The general context for desertion drew in several considerations— conditions at home, conditions in the garrisons and units, the receptivity o f the local com ­ munity, and the question o f security both in the villages, where local authorities and antidesertion agents were a factor, and in the garrisons, whence the young men absconded. The fact that so many in the garrisons o f Tambov were them ­ selves natives o f the province lowered the risk felt by soldiers, and the draw o f the home village was strong. But many factors contributed to the general problem o f desertion, none o f which was unique to Tambov Province. The provisions crisis, the weakness o f soviet administration and the Com munist Party in the country­ side, and a strong war weariness that had been in evidence at least since the days o f the revolution in 1917— all these were outstanding characteristics o f provincial life in Soviet Russia, and all encouraged desertion in 1920. The problem o f desertion and redesertion from reserve garrisons in 1920 pro­ voked a major cleavage in the provincial administration, in which the Antideser­ tion Commission and the M ilitary Commissariat each blamed the other for the continuing problems.159Authorities in the Antidesertion Commission in Tambov,

Revolution and Recalcitrance


when held to account for the large number o f deserters still believed to be at large in the countryside, pointed the finger o f blame at the M ilitary Com missariat, which had not only been unable to support the soldier population in the province, but also guilty o f providing inadequate security in garrisons.160 They pointed to the high levels o f infectious disease in the garrisons, which often resulted in leaves o f absence that would be exceeded by soldiers, thus earning the status o f “desert­ ers,” and the rates o f redesertion, creating a cycle that appeared to be effectively tolerated by M ilitary Commissariat officials.161 Sensing that their institutional au­ tonom y was under threat, authorities in the Antidesertion Commission, like so many bureaucrats in the Soviet Republic during the civil war, raised the intensity o f the dispute in the hope that a compromise might be achieved: The continuation of this type of life for the deserters and soldiers of the Red Army is inconceivable. The Military Commissariat’s efforts toward reducing desertion, as well as the purely internal work of the commissariats [in the local administrations], is completely ineffective and, what is more, it is criminal. The entire range of work by the commissariats is intended to reinforce the Red Army, but with such conditions in the garrisons, and given the slipshod work of the military commissars, there will be no effective reinforcement and desertion will continue to grow. If the responsible military commissars are not removed, and if present conditions continue into the future, then the Antidesertion Commission will have no choice but to recommend to Moscow that official criminal charges be brought against the provincial Military Commissariat.162 Such threats, however, were not enough to preserve the commission’s autonomy, and on 1 June 1920, it was officially made subordinate to the M ilitary Com m is­ sariat.163 Maintaining that the desertion problem was chiefly attributable to the failings o f the antidesertion officials active in the localities, the formerly inde­ pendent commission was now made the subject o f intense internal reviews that found its organization and operations to be corrupt and incompetent. The new head o f the Antidesertion Commission in Tambov, Shikunov, reported his shock at the state in which he found the organization in the summer o f 1920: In the first place, the provincial commission had no effective contact with the local commissions, such that in the course of an entire year they had not once undertaken to provide instruction for the uezds, and the uezd commissions likewise made no such effort to train those in the districts. Thus, antidesertion work was carried out at all levels in the manner of a cottage industry, without any systematic coordination of efforts. Second, working as they were for nearly eighteen months without any


Revolution and Recalcitrance

formal contact with the military authorities, not being answerable to the Military Commissariat, the antidesertion commissions naturally became infected with an ethic of haphazardness, which was quickly revealed for all to see over the course of their formal subordination to the commissariat. Third, judging by the available reports and estimates found in the possession of the Antidesertion Commission, the commission actually had very little idea as to how many deserters there actually were in the province, let alone where to find them

Fourth, the local antidesertion

commissions at the village and volost levels were most often composed of only one member, and in the most exceptional cases there were up to two members. Obviously, to talk of productive, effective work, given these circumstances, is impossible.164 These conclusions were written in August 1920, at a time when the provincial ad­ ministration was once more facing the prospect o f renewed instability in the coun­ tryside as another campaign to procure grain from the villages was about to be initiated. The weakness o f local administration remained a problem that threat­ ened to compromise the state’s ability to meet its targets for the procurement o f food, and the continued failure to control desertion remained an important in­ dication o f that weakness. Estimates at the time placed the number o f deserters still at large in the countryside at just over 27,000, with the highest concentrations being in Tambov, Kirsanov, and Morshansk uezds.165 Deserters still at large in the villages represented a potentially volatile element within the communities, and they were a particular focus o f anxieties as the confrontation between the peasantry and the state resumed. Yet as we have seen, while weak administration and the "reach” o f the state into the villages was a real problem, the phenomenon o f desertion was a complex one that did not necessarily reflect the fears o f many Soviet officials in Tambov and Moscow. Desertion was certainly resistance to m ilitary mobilization, and it was also a response to the severe conditions o f crisis, particularly the food crisis, that affected Soviet society as a whole. Desertion in its provincial context was often a pragmatic response conditioned by both desperation and realism. Young men serving in the reserve garrisons often deserted precisely because they could, and they did so on the basis o f individual circumstances rather than out o f political principle. Deserters did not constitute a natural collective actor m obilized, or primed for mobilization, in a movement o f resistance to the Soviet state. Deser­ tion was, if anything, a symptom o f the weaknesses o f state authority in Tambov, one that Soviet officials were all too aware o f and yet limited in their ability to re­ dress.

THE M A K IN G OF A CIVIL W AR B A N D I T Aleksandr Antonov

opular grievances against the Soviet state in a province where local


adm inistration and authority was weak did not by necessity translate into

focused resistance and opposition to the Soviet government. W hile the civil war

history o f Tambov had been turbulent and violent, punctuated by rural uprisings, the only source o f sustained opposition in the province came from forces that moved freely within the village milieu yet were outside o f it. Banditry— violent criminality, often opportunistic— was a persistent problem in Tambov, but the province was hardly unique in its reporting o f incidents involving armed groups o f men raiding villages and state farms. Many o f these groups were highly localized and isolated from village communities, as well as transient in the disturbances they caused. Far more troubling by 1919 and 1920 was the presence o f established groups o f armed men who proudly announced their opposition to the Soviet government both in word and deed, targeting state representatives and officials in a campaign o f terror waged in the name o f the “people.” No other civil war era “bandit” in Tambov Province achieved the fame and prominence o f Aleksandr Stepanovich Antonov. As an anti-Soviet rebel, Antonov



The Making o f a Civil War Bandit

appears to be rather typical. Like many others who emerged to oppose the Soviet government during the civil war period, he had devoted much o f his adult life to underground revolutionary politics. And like other rebels o f the era, he had briefly worked with the Bolsheviks following the O ctober 1917 seizure o f power. The details o f his biography, however, make it far from obvious that he was the kind o f man to build a peasant army and lead a large-scale insurgency against the gov­ ernment o f the day.1 Antonov had been involved with local radicalism as early as his sixteenth year. Born in Moscow on 26 July 1889, Aleksandr Antonov was the third child o f Stepan Gavrilovich Antonov and Nataliia Ivanovna Sokolova. Nothing is known o f the Antonov fam ily during their time in Moscow, as the interest o f historians and, during Antonov’s life, policemen and security agents, has been focused on un­ covering the sparse details o f his life. His time in M oscow could have been brief, for the family moved to Tambov Province soon after Aleksandr’s birth. Stepan, a former noncommissioned officer in the Russian army, was a native o f Tambov, and he m ay have been returning home with his family after the birth o f their first son. Stepan moved the family to the small but thriving uezd town o f Kirsanov, then a bustling regional center o f the grain trade, located on the Riazan’-Urals rail line.2 Parish documents that record Aleksandr’s christening in Moscow in 1889 list the Antonovs as lower m iddle class, or o f the legal estate known as meshchanstvo.3 After their move to Kirsanov, the details o f this status were realized in full. Hav­ ing to support a wife and three children (soon joined by a fourth child, Dm itrii), Stepan set up shop as a tinker, while Nataliia sought to earn m oney as a seam­ stress and milliner. In the last years o f the nineteenth century, the Antonovs lived and survived in Kirsanov. W hile Stepan’s business did not thrive, Nataliia was able to establish a professional reputation and secure a steady amount o f work, effec­ tively supporting the family. The three eldest children received elementary edu­ cation in Kirsanov, although Aleksandr failed to advance as far as his elder sisters, Valentina and Anna. In his early teens, Aleksandr began to w ork as an assistant to a local grain trader. There is no obvious m om ent that one can pinpoint as the time when A lek­ sandr Antonov became involved in radical politics in this provincial setting. Cer­ tainly there were radical groups operating in Tambov Province, and specifically i


Kirsanov, and their prominence would have only increased during the first years o f the twentieth century. It is known that the younger daughter, Anna, was in­ volved in radical politics— enough to earn her a prison sentence in Penza Province

The Making o f a Civil War Bandit


— but the evidence for this is from 1910 and could have been the result o f only a fleeting and superficial involvement or association with radical circles. It is not known whether Anna introduced Aleksandr to revolutionary underground poli­ tics and parties or vice versa.4 According to Anna, Aleksandr was— as a child at least— very much engrossed by family life, with a particularly strong bond with his mother. Physically small and fair in com plexion, Aleksandr left few strong im ­ pressions upon those who were able to recall him as a child. Nothing remarkable about his childhood, even down to the sensitivity identified by his sister, could have foretold his extraordinary fate. His m other’s death when Aleksandr was six­ teen or seventeen signaled many changes for the Antonov family, and especially for Aleksandr.5 Antonov’s elder sister Valentina noted in her testimony given to Soviet inves­ tigators that she effectively became the mother o f the family following the death o f Nataliia Ivanovna. This was especially true for Aleksandr and Dm itrii.6 H ow­ ever, Valentina soon married, and Anna left home not long after. Stepan, perhaps no longer able to make an adequate living in Kirsanov, moved to the growing vil­ lage o f Inzhavino after his wife’s death. Inzhavino was the terminus o f a recently built railway feeder line that linked the farms o f the south o f the uezd to Kirsanov. It is not known if he made this choice in order to be nearer to relatives in the area or if it was a business decision, to provide needed services to a growing village. Either way, Stepan moved to Inzhavino with his son Dm itrii in 1907 or 1908. By this time, Aleksandr had already left home. Aleksandr was now well on his way to establishing him self within radical political circles as a man o f action. It is not known whether he was attracted to rev­ olutionary activity by the strength o f ideas or by the lure o f high-risk political violence. But by 1908, Aleksandr’s name first appears in the police ledgers for Tambov as an eighteen-year-old with an established identity within the Socialist Revolutionary (SR) group in Kirsanov. He is described as a ruddy-faced youth with fair brown hair and o f average to smallish build. His reason for traveling to the provincial capital in the summer o f 1908 was evidently to establish contact be­ tween the SRs in Tambov city and those in Kirsanov, a group described in police reports as independent o f the main SR party organization. At a time when there was a strong degree o f fluidity and, indeed, disarray in the Russian revolutionary underground, such fractures were both com m onplace and difficult to resolve. Given the heightened vigilance o f the police and M inistry o f Internal Affairs (M VD) amid the sporadic violence in the countryside and nascent “legitimate” party politics o f the main towns, a young man such as Antonov, effectively on his own and without immediate prospects, could find opportunity and purpose in


The Making o f a Civil War Bandit

revolutionary politics. His first appearance on the police diary o f the local news­ paper concerned an incident in June 1908 in which a policeman was shot in Tam­ bov while pursuing two suspected revolutionaries, one o f whom was Antonov. His involvement in this event, which was taken up by the Special Prosecutor’s Office in M oscow some weeks later, made it unlikely that he could ever extricate him self from the revolutionary underground.7 Aleksandr’s calling, however, was not bound up with the realm o f ideas and ideology. His was the dirty work o f radical politics in Russia— robbery and ex­ tortion for the purpose o f financially sustaining the movement. Antonov was an “expropriator” rather than a revolutionary terrorist. He was enlisted to commit acts o f mundane criminality in the name o f the revolution, rather than spectac­ ular acts o f assassination that constituted the front-line volleys o f the revolution­ ary terrorists. Yet he was easily distinguished from the average criminal, even if he kept the company o f individuals whose only interest was in personal profit and securing their own share o f the takings. Two o f the more prominent “expropria­ tions” that are linked with Antonov’s name took place in Inzhavino and in the smaller Borisoglebsk settlement o f Kaninskii. In each case, unnamed men perpe­ trated robberies. However, each was explicitly linked with revolutionaries. When the railway station in Inzhavino was held up at gunpoint, the robbers left a note that read: “4,302 rubles and 85 kopecks taken by the party o f anarchists-individualists.” It was signed simply: “A member o f the party.” Likewise, in Kaninskii, where the Peasant Bank was raided at gunpoint, the robbers left a similarly precise account, entering into the accounts book a record o f the amount taken, confiscated by “the Volga Union o f Independent Socialist-Revolutionaries.”8 In each case, Antonov worked with fellow SR-Maximalists and with ordinary men from nearby villages, drafted in at short notice to assist in the robbery. The less these men knew about the instigators o f the plots the better, and they were re­ warded for their help (directly participating in the robberies, providing transport, securing safe hideouts) with a share o f the takings. In the case o f the Inzhavino “ex­ propriation,” police investigators that descended upon the village were able to im ­ plicate four other local men, three o f whom were found to have between 147 and 496 rubles each, suspected to be a portion o f the 4,302 rubles stolen from the safe at the railway station. The two men believed to have organized the robbery, Antonov and Gavriil Ivanovich Iagodkin, had both fled the scene, leaving their local ac­ complices to pay for their self-seeking participation in the crimes. A similar robbery one month later at the office o f the Peasant Bank located on the Kanin farm settlement (khutor) yielded 2,296 rubles.9 In the bank’s account books, the robbers, identified later as Antonov and a man named Zelenov, left

The Making o f a Civil War Bandit


their custom ary record o f the am ount stolen, noting that the m oney had been confiscated by the Volga Union o f Independent Social Revolutionaries. This entry was signed simply “Medved” (“The Bear” ). Once again, the two principal robbers were assisted by local men from the nearby village o f Uvarova; police made eight arrests in all, none o f which yielded detailed inform ation about Antonov or his accomplice beyond some vague ties they had to a schoolteacher in the town o f Balashov in neighboring Saratov Province. But it was not long before the police in Tambov would be able to piece together a more detailed picture o f the young man, Aleksandr Antonov. They soon had his photograph, probably secured from his family in Inzhavino, although, as a report at the time notes, they did not possess any o f his “anthropometrical measurements.” His worth to the authorities in Tambov, as measured by the reward offered for his capture, was 1,000 rubles, and information regarding Antonov— whose code names in underground circles were “Shurka” or “Shura” (comm on diminutives for Alek­ sandr) and “Osinovyi” (aspen leaf)— was distributed to regional M VD offices. The first evidence o f his whereabouts came from Saratov Province, where an intercepted letter, originating from Kozlov in Tambov Province, inquired o f Saratov comrades about “Shura” and others.10 Officials in Saratov were at the time on a heightened state o f alert, owing to the discovery o f a plot to assassinate the commander-in-chief o f the Kazan region, one General Sadetskii. W hen Antonov was finally captured, it was in the dragnet o f the Saratov police connected with this assassination plot. It is unknown whether Antonov was in­ volved in this particular plot; police records place him as only a peripheral figure at best. Nevertheless, on 20 February 1909 he was apprehended during an early m orning raid on a house where suspects connected with the assassination plot were living in the town o f Saratov. Three others were apprehended in the raid. Antonov was caught in the possession o f a firearm and a fake passport. Knowing that Antonov was wanted in connection with robberies in Tambov Province, the Saratov officials began to arrange for his transfer to Tambov, although this process was slow and the actual return did not occur until 14 April. In the Tambov jail, Antonov joined several other “politicals” attached to the PSR. Contact between these jailed party members and the regional organization was fairly regular, and the fact that structural repairs were being made to the prison in Tambov kept the prospect o f escape foremost in the minds o f prisoners. One o f the party leaders, Konstantin Nikolaev Bazhenov, was entreated to visit the prison to learn more about the security situation and to report to the party leadership on opportunities for freeing their comrades behind bars. Prison offi­ cials learned o f this and other details when they intercepted and decoded a letter


The Making o f a Civil War Bandit

sent by PSR inmates to the party organization in Tambov. The letter also con­ tained a request for several hundred rubles by Antonov (“Shurka”), who evidently felt confident, after only a couple o f months in prison, that he could bribe his way to liberty. Interestingly, Antonov promised to repay the m oney with funds he re­ tained from some o f his “expropriations,” opening the possibility that his revolu­ tionary activities were not exclusively for the sake o f the cause. This particular overture failed, however, as did other reported escape attempts involving tunnels and severed window bars. This letter was enough to earn Antonov a regular space in an isolation cell and eventually, following his conviction at a court martial in 1910, a transfer to a prison outside Tambov Province. Eventually, after a spell in a M oscow prison, he was placed in the main prison in the city o f Vladimir, where he remained until immediately after the revolution in February 1917. (Once again, there are few details about his term in prison in Vladimir, except for records o f six separate periods spent in isolation cells for unspecified transgressions.) According to his sister Valentina, when Antonov was finally released, along with all political prisoners in early March 1917, he first sent a telegram to announce his release and his intention to return to the city o f Tambov, where Valentina and her family were living. After eight years o f incarceration, he was emaciated, and it took him nearly a m onth o f rest at Valentina’s apartment to regain a healthy disposi­ tion. As a member o f the PSR, and a former political prisoner, Antonov had both connections and cachet in the immediate postrevolutionary context. With senior PSR members now assuming leadership in the provincial and municipal adm in­ istration (V. P. Izheev, who had been Antonov’s defense lawyer in March 1910, was then the chairman o f the municipal Dum a in Tambov), Antonov was able to se­ cure a paying position as an assistant to one o f the district militia chiefs in the municipality. This was far from being a high-profile post, but in the inverted world o f revolutionary Russia, a term in a tsarist-era prison was proof o f Antonov’s re­ liability and loyalty. His party code name may have been “the thief,” but Antonov now stood on the other side o f the thin blue line. Antonov’s moment in the revolutionary summer o f 1917 arrived when newly elected members o f the municipal Dum a in Kirsanov declared the town an au­ tonom ous republic— the “ Kirsanov Republic”— on 13 May. The event was not an upheaval as such, and it bore no relation to the similar declarations o f small “re­ publics” later in the summer by radical groups o f politicians and soldiers in other provincial towns. Nor, it would seem, did it resemble the occasions when individ­ ual villages or even land communes declared their autonomy following the seizure o f property from a local estate.11 Shortly after having been selected to the m unic­ ipal Committee o f Public Safety, A. K. Trunin, a small businessman o f some vari­

The Making o f a Civil War Bandit


ety and a member o f the PSR, appointed himself “Procurer-General” o f the m u­ nicipality, already declared to be an autonomous republic. Trunin was joined in his adventure by other local businessmen who had recently become members o f the municipal Duma, and they were supported by certain individuals attached to the local militia.12The declaration o f the Kirsanov Republic was far from being the product o f a popular movement, even if its instigators later sought to court pop­ ular support with all-day orchestra concerts and noticeably prolonged ringing o f church bells.13 The political character o f the cabal that assumed control over Kir­ sanov’s affairs, however, remains enigmatic. Variously called “bourgeois,” “anar­ chist,” “bolshevik,” and “blackhundred,” the conspiracy launched by Trunin and his supporters was more than anything a challenge to the authority o f the provin­ cial capital and to the Provisional Government.14As a man with close ties to Kir­ sanov, Aleksandr Antonov was chosen to lead a contingent o f militiamen to the uezd town to arrest Trunin and the other “republicans.” The operation proved to be more complicated than provincial officials antici­ pated. The militia detachment led by Antonov was greeted by a large crowd out­ side the municipal Duma in Kirsanov, and when their initial effort to arrest Trunin was met with defiance from within the building, the situation quickly escalated to an exchange o f gunfire and general panic in the market square. W hen the men inside the Dum a building finally succumbed, the problems for the militiamen from Tambov did not cease. Awaiting transportation back to the provincial capi­ tal, Antonov and his men were confronted by an angry crowd that once more freed Trunin and sim ultaneously arrested A ntonov.15 The tables were again







after the local army garrison was enjoined to restore order and to rearrest Trunin and his associates. The whole episode was over by 23 May, but at the cost o f some eight lives.16 A ntonov’s militia activities in the provincial capital in 1917 must have been eventful, given the mounting public disorder surrounding the issues o f food sup­ ply and the growing political radicalism o f the local military garrison, in partic­ ular.17 Antonov’s chance for advancement, however, would again be associated more with personal connections than a particularly distinguished record o f serv­ ice. In October, uezd officials in Kirsanov— evidently still attempting to reconsti­ tute a reliable militia organization, particularly following the events o f M ay 1917 — requested that Antonov be made militia chief for the entire territory. This was a significant step up in responsibility for someone with only six months’ experi­ ence as the assistant to a municipal district militia chief. But those who issued the request were not unknown to Antonov; they were long-time acquaintances from


The Making o f a Civil War Bandit

the revolutionary underground. The representative o f the Provisional Government in Kirsanov, Konstantin Bazhenov, had been a significant figure in regional PSR circles and was familiar with Antonov’s earlier activities as a party “expropriator.” Antonov would be returning home, surrounded by familiar faces, but confronted by an entirely different context. Before assuming his appointment to Kirsanov, Antonov married his Tambov girlfriend, Sofiia Vasil’evna Orlova-Bogoliubskaia. The couple could not have known one another for very long, since Aleksandr had been in the provincial cap­ ital for only a short time. When he informed his sister Valentina o f his intention to marry, she had not even known her brother had a girlfriend.18 Sofiia, a small, dark-haired girl, was the sister o f one o f Antonov’s colleagues in the municipal militia organization. Also named Aleksandr, Sofiia’s brother had a background somewhat similar to Antonov’s. Both had strong ties to Kirsanov, both were SRs, and both had been involved in “expropriations.” (Indeed, both shared the nick­ name “Shurka.” )19 The only major divergence was the young Bogoliubskii’s serv­ ice in the army during the First World War, suggesting that he was not so fully involved in the revolutionary underground prior to the revolution. Regardless, their fates would become closely tied after the civil war began in Russia. Leaving his new wife behind in Tambov, Antonov assumed his post in Kirsanov at the beginning o f November 1917. The uezd administration in the province was still firm ly in the hands o f fellow members o f the PSR, joined by MenshevikInternationalists. Despite the uniform appearance o f the political scene in the uezd, there was still room for antagonisms and professional rivalries. Soon after Antonov’s arrival, one o f his colleagues complained to the country administra­ tion authorities that he refused “to w ork under such a crude and uneducated man.” Having just been replaced as the assistant militia chief by Antonov, P. N. Kalinin complained further that “by his education he does not meet the required qualifications set for the militia to serve as an assistant to a volost militia chief, let alone assume the post o f militia chief for an entire uezd and town [Kirsanov].”20 In Kirsanov, the political situation showed signs o f change in late 1917. The October seizure o f power in Petrograd by the Bolshevik Party was a distant event that had had little immediate bearing on politics in Kirsanov. The uezd soviet re­ mained very much in the hands o f Mensheviks and SRs, and the zemstvo adm in­ istration was similarly dominated by liberals and moderate socialists. In the town o f Kirsanov there was as yet no Bolshevik Party organization at the beginning o f 1918, although in the first weeks o f that year the party began to make noticeable gains in the newly organized volost soviets, as hundreds o f former soldiers, pro­ claiming their allegiance to the Petrograd “party o f power,” returned to their na-

The Making o f a Civil War Bandit


Aleksandr Antonov, 1917 or 1918. Detail from a group photo, possibly taken when Antonov assumed his post as C hief o f Militia in Kirsanov uezd. This is the only photo­ graph o f the adult Antonov that exists, with the exception o f those o f his corpse taken in 1922. Photograph courtesy o f the Tambovskii Kraevedcheskii Muzei

tive villages from their garrisons and units. Their presence in the countryside of Kirsanov had the potential effect o f shifting the balance of power in the uezd, al­ though Bolshevik activists in the town were hesitant at first to exploit this rural base of support, seeing these soldiers and village men as of questionable reliabil­ ity and temperament.21 The relatively peaceful suppression of the municipal Duma and the correspond­ ing declaration of “Soviet power” in Kirsanov were finally completed in February 1918, but not on the strict terms set by Bolshevik Party members in the uezd. The executive committee of the uezd soviet was still made up of Mensheviks, SRs, and Bolsheviks, and the last remained very much a minor force in the early weeks of 1918. But as outside Bolshevik activists arrived, the Kirsanov Bolshevik Party grew assertive in its dealings with the executive committee, turning up the pressure on Menshevik and PSR members, in particular.22 Some SRs, in order to remain at their posts and work alongside their Bolshevik colleagues, switched their affilia­ tion to the Revolutionary Communists, while others would eventually claim affili­ ation with the Left SRs, even though the LSR Party was not formally organized in the uezd until April 1918, when the Soviet organization in Tambov finally assumed


The Making o f a Civil War Bandit

control over the provincial administration with the significant assistance o f out­ side LSR activists.23Antonov would eventually identify himself as a LSR, although one o f the founding members o f the Kirsanov LSR organization claimed that Antonov never participated in their meetings, suggesting that this was an affilia­ tion o f convenience more than anything else.24Antonov remained pragmatic in his politics, but he, like so m any others, could not have failed to notice how the bal­ ance o f power in Kirsanov was shifting. Former close associates o f Antonov’s, such as Bazhenov and V. N. Mikhnevich, began to defect from the PSR or were dismissed from their posts. The organization o f a local branch o f the Cheka in Kirsanov in April 1918 accelerated this political transformation in the uezd. Antonov’s position was undeniably vulnerable, and it is reasonable to under­ stand his next significant action in that light. Nearly every biographical sketch o f Aleksandr Antonov paints M ay 1918 as a turning point for him and his closest as­ sociates in the militia. The order issued on 29 M ay 1918 calling for the immediate disarmament o f the troops o f the Czechoslovak Legion throughout Russia— some o f w hom were located along the railway that ran through Kirsanov between Tambov and the large junction at Rtishchevo in Saratov Province— had the effect o f transforming a tense standoff between certain forces o f the legion and Soviet authorities into a violent conflict, one that changed the political landscape o f Russia in 1918 and presented a vital opportunity for political opponents o f the Bolsheviks. However, unlike other parts o f Soviet territory, principally to the east o f the province, Tam bov had not seen any serious disturbances involving the Czechoslovak Legion. Similarly, no serious incidents were associated with the dis­ armament order in Kirsanov, although it is unknown how many Czech and Slo­ vak legionnaires were on this particular stretch o f the railway. The opportunity created by the situation for political opponents o f the Bol­ sheviks in Kirsanov was not to be found in any immediate disruptions and clashes, however. Instead, the prominent claim was that Antonov and his associates in the militia pilfered the bulk o f the confiscated firearms taken from the Czech and Slo­ vak troops within their area o f authority. Antonov’s principal accomplices in this operation were two militiamen, I. S. Zaev, a former noncommissioned army officer, and V. K. Lashchilin, who had once been a schoolteacher. Both were appointed by Antonov, each responsible for sectors o f the rural southern portion o f the uezd. Both were allegedly instrumental in transporting the confiscated firearms and am ­ munition to the area south o f Kirsanov and hiding them in designated spots along the banks o f the Vorona River between the villages o f Inokovka and Chernavka. Other militiamen close to Antonov were similarly involved, such as R M. Tokmakov and N. G. Gridchin.

The Making o f a Civil War Bandit


Although the pilfering o f arms appears to have represented a fundamental break for Antonov, the actual significance o f this development— about which, pre­ dictably, there is no detailed documentation— is difficult to assess. This is not sim­ ply a matter o f quantification, although little is known about the actual scale o f the theft. Assuming that they were involved in the pilfering o f arms in M ay and June 1918, it is also difficult to state with any confidence what the plans o f Antonov and his associates actually were. Did they have designs for an immediate armed seizure o f power in Kirsanov, to be completed before the Cheka in the uezd arrested all o f their socialist comrades and removed them from power? Were they stockpiling arms for some future action, as yet undetermined, simply because a large source o f firearms had become available when the convoys o f the Czechoslovak Legion were stopped? According to a senior agent in the Kirsanov Cheka, the PSR in Tambov had developed concrete plans for an armed seizure o f power involving A ntonov and his Kirsanov militia, plans that came to light when a mysterious briefcase containing docum ents detailing the conspiracy was “discovered” by agents. The Cheka agent in question, G. T. Men'shov, made the claims in his pub­ lished memoirs in 1923, stating that the Kirsanov Cheka organization reviewed the incriminating documents on 15 August 1918, and immediately dispatched agents to arrest Antonov, Lishchilin, and Zaev, the militia officials identified in connec­ tion with the plot. Lishchilin and Zaev were apprehended by Cheka agents, brought back to Kirsanov, and, according to Men'shov, shot within twenty-four hours after their capture. Antonov, who had been on leave from his militia post and living with his wife for over a fortnight in a village north o f Inzhavino, was somehow alerted o f the danger and went into hiding. His wife returned to Tambov. For the next ten days, the Cheka kept a watch on Antonov’s apartment in Kirsanov, but he never returned. The scenario outlined by Men’shov, based on the documents allegedly discov­ ered in the briefcase, may or may not be authentic. No such documents have ever been uncovered, nor any contemporary evidence relating to the discovery o f such a briefcase. It is clear, though, that in mid-August 1918 the Cheka did arrest Zaev and Lishchilin, and that they also sought to arrest Antonov. Zaev and Lishchilin had already been under investigation by the Cheka for accusations o f professional improprieties such as corruption, and Antonov had personally intervened on one occasion to defend his trusted colleagues. But, according to Men’shov, the inter­ cepted documents, containing plans to “destroy the [Kirsanov] uezd soviet” and to “carry out a campaign o f terror against senior officials,” provided the im medi­ ate pretext for the pursuit o f Antonov and his militia colleagues. Given the sever­ ity o f such charges, it appears strange that, when official docum entation o f


The Making o f a Civil War Bandit

Antonov’s dismissal as Kirsanov militia chief in August 1918 was processed by uezd administration authorities, the grounds for his dismissal, as described by the M VD commissar in Kirsanov, T. A. Klimov, was “failure to return from annual leave o f ab­ sence” Returning to an underground existence that had become so familiar, Antonov was joined by several known and trusted faces, including some from his under­ ground days nearly a decade before. Although it is unclear if he immediately linked up with them, Antonov’s brother and brother-in-law were already on the run from Soviet authorities in connection with a failed uprising in the provincial capital, where both had been members o f the m unicipal militia. Dm itrii A ntonov had gone into hiding almost immediately after events in Tambov on 17-19 June 1918, the riots by recently mobilized young men that had so destabilized the Bolshevikcontrolled soviet administration in the provincial capital as to allow their oppo­ nents in the PSR and Kadet parties to very briefly assume control o f the municipal government. Just when the Bolshevik Party was reasserting control with the as­ sistance o f recently arrived Red Arm y troops, Dm itrii Antonov appeared at the door o f his sister’s apartment. Dmitrii was very much the youngest sibling, and ac­ cording to Valentina he was understandably anxious, as he had been a reluctant and peripheral participant in the uprising in Tambov and was unsure o f his next move. Aleksandr Antonov, when his sister told him o f D m itrii’s involvement, called his brother an “ idiot” for having been caught up in the doomed affair.25 Bogoliubskii’s role in the June 1918 events in Tambov is less concrete, but his disap­ pearance largely coincides with the immediate aftermath o f the failed uprising when the Cheka in Tambov carried out sweeping arrests o f known or suspected politi­ cal opponents.26 The two Antonov brothers and Bogoliubskii would certainly have been aware that the others had gone into hiding, but it is not immediately apparent that they found one another during their first weeks on the run. W hile the activities o f the other two remain obscure, there is much speculation as to Aleksandr Antonov’s initial moves in the autumn o f 1918. Most prominent are claims that Antonov left Tam bov Province, drawn to developments in the M iddle Volga, where former members o f the Constituent Assembly had improvised a rival government ini­ tially based in the town o f Samara. The Komuch government contained a signifi­ cant num ber o f SRs, including some with connections to Tambov. There is, however, no evidence to place A ntonov am ong the precious few popular sup­ porters o f the Komuch government, and in any case that government’s fall in N o­ vember 1918 would have cut short any flirtation Antonov m ay have planned with the defenders o f the Constituent Assembly in the Volga region.27

The Making o f a Civil War Bandit


Other accounts try to place Antonov at the heart o f the violence in the villages along the border between Morshansk and Kirsanov uezds in late October and early November 1918.28 This was one o f the m ost serious rural uprisings that plagued Tam bov Province that autumn. Claims that Antonov was involved, how­ ever, emerged only well after the event, by sources that demonstrate a tendency to involve Antonov in such incidents o f antigovernment violence from the very m o­ ment the Bolsheviks assumed control in Tambov. Contem porary reports on the violence in Pichaevo, Rudovka, and other districts along the Morshansk-Kirsanov border make no m ention o f Antonov as a participant, even a m inor one, despite extensive investigations into the disturbances there conducted by Soviet officials in the immediate aftermath.29 By the end o f 1918, the circle o f outlaws had found one another and, without any prospect o f returning to peaceful life in a provincial society that was being drawn irrevocably into civil war, resolved to forge for themselves an existence defined in opposition to the Soviet authorities in Tambov. Aleksandr and Dm itrii Antonov were joined by Aleksandr Bogoliubskii and a group o f former militia members, including Petr Tokmakov. In all, the group numbered between ten and fifteen— a small squad (druzhina) o f vigilantes whose first activities recalled the armed "expropriations” o f Antonov s formative years conducted in the same area o f southern Kirsanov uezd where he most likely continued to maintain strong ties with locals. But the attacks on the village and volost soviets in such places as Zolotovka (Kirsanov) and Utinov (Borisoglebsk) in February 1919 were limited in nature and relatively low-risk. These were, first and foremost, robberies that helped to sustain the druzhina, and there were no attempts to court popular support or entreat com m unity members to rebel. The assault on the soviet in Zolotovka not only relieved the volost treasury o f its cash resources, but also left four C om ­ munist Party members dead. Despite the violence and instability that had char­ acterized the countryside since the spring o f 1917, such a deadly attack by outside vigilantes was highly uncom m on, and even if the Com munist Party was the tar­ get o f popular derision and dissatisfaction, the murder o f four people must have given the villagers o f Zolotovka pause. As the first months o f 1919 passed, the number o f bodies continued to m ount in Kirsanov. The targets continued to be Com m unist Party members, but these acts o f assassination broadened to target anyone who served the Soviet state and was likely to be associated with unpopular policies or practices in the country­ side. Food supply workers and requisition agents, local military commissariat offi­ cials, and agents o f the Cheka and militia were am ong those who perished in ambushes over the course o f 1919. In late June, a member o f the Kirsanov soviet


The Making o f a Civil War Bandit

executive committee, Butovskii, and a senior official in the uezd Cheka organiza­ tion became the most high-profile victims o f Antonov and his druzhina. By the end o f 1919, Antonov and his men were allegedly responsible for the murder o f over 100 Com m unist Party members in Kirsanov uezd. Their exploits inspired a fear that permeated the Kirsanov Com m unist Party organization and attracted the attentions o f other outlaws in the area who sought safety and purpose outside the typical context o f the village community. The druzhina expanded in the first half o f 1919, from possibly a dozen to somewhere in the region o f 100-200 men. The fluctuating numbers seem to indicate that the druzhina attracted a com bi­ nation o f locals whose involvement was entirely tem porary and who could rejoin their communities, and others who found themselves detached from their native communities and wanted by Soviet authorities. Few o f the men who joined would have had the sort o f experience in revolu­ tionary activities possessed by Aleksandr Antonov. One who did share a similar background was Ivan Egorovich Ishin, who became involved with the druzhina in early 1919 and later played a central role in the insurgency in Tambov Province. O nly slightly older than Antonov, Ishin was a native o f Kalugino, in the southern half o f Kirsanov uezd. He was born into a peasant family and remained in his na­ tive region, eventually settling in the large market village o f Kurdiuki. Like Antonov, his involvement with revolutionary politics and the PSR dates from the 1905 revo­ lution. It is not known whether their paths crossed at this time, but it is highly likely that they did, even if Ishin’s police record is far less substantial than Antonov’s.30He was arrested in 1907 in connection with rural disturbances in his native Kalugino, charged with inciting locals to defy public order decrees, and was arrested on sub­ sequent occasions in connection with his involvement with the PSR.31 However, Ishin never incurred the severe punishments reserved for Antonov, and he re­ mained in his native area until the revolution in 1917. At this time, Ishin surfaced as the chairman o f the volost zemstvo in Kurdiuki, a position o f some standing, although one that would quickly command less authority as the summer o f 1917 passed. Ishin s involvement with Antonov and the druzhina in 1919 came about as a result o f circumstances similar to those surrounding Antonov’s own descent into an underground existence. In the months following the Bolshevik assumption o f control over the provincial administration in Tambov in 1918, Ishin was the head o f the main consumers’ cooperative in the village o f Kurdiuki, the most recent o f several “civic” posts he had held since the 1917 revolution. He was also the head o f a growing family, with three young children. However, he regularly found himself in conflict with the local members o f the Com m unist Party, who controlled the

The Making o f a Civil War Bandit


volost soviet and, subsequently, the Com m ittee o f the Poor in the village and volost.32 Disputes over the distribution o f rare consumer goods, as well as avail­ able cash resources, were informed by broader political allegiances and opinion, with Ishin’s formal “nonparty” status only thinly veiling his hostility to the C om ­ munist Party and marking him as someone who could not be relied upon to “sub­ m it to Soviet authority.”33 Ishin was consistently linked with the episodes o f violence in the area that occurred in the autumn o f 1918. Between December 1918 and late March 1919, Ishin was twice detained by local officials on charges o f cor­ ruption and speculation, and on both occasions he was released on the order o f uezd officials due to a lack o f evidence produced by his opponents in Kudiuki. It is difficult to evaluate whether he was a victim o f harassment and intimidation, or was simply more careful and elusive in his subversive activities than his rivals. Then, in late March 1919, he disappeared. No one— particularly members o f his large extended family in the area, who evidently closed ranks— was able to offer any information regarding his whereabouts. Later Soviet investigators tried to im ­ plicate him in violent disturbances in Nikol’skoe volost in Tambov uezd, but no evidence has been produced. According to a former family friend, it was rumored that he had “joined the W hite Guards.” In fact, Ishin had decided to take flight from increasingly difficult circumstances in his home village, and the fact that an old associate like Antonov was thriving in the area no doubt drew him into an underground existence. In so doing, he abandoned his wife and children in Kurdiuki.34 Ishin’s unique contribution to the growth and character o f Antonov’s druzhina emerged in the summer o f 1919. His history as a radical in the Kirsanov country­ side was quite possibly tied to his talent for oratory, for his name features most prominently in connection with the first efforts o f Antonov and his men to com ­ municate a political message to the communities o f southern Kirsanov. During the height o f their campaign o f terror in 1919, targeting the rural cells o f the C om ­ m unist Party and other agents o f the Soviet state in the Tam bov countryside, Antonov and his group called meetings in areas deemed safe enough to address crowds, particularly young men o f conscription age. A t these meetings, Ishin would urge resistance to service in the Red Arm y as a means o f protest against the Soviet state. There were no calls for open rebellion against the state, and there was evidently no attempt to recruit these young men to join Antonov and his druzhina in an effort to forge a wider resistance movement in the province. At one such meeting, which drew people from four districts in southern Kirsanov uezd (Treskino, Kalugino, Zolotovka, and Bogdanovka), several thousand were said to have heard the words o f Ishin, Antonov, and perhaps others.35 The circumstances sur-


The Making o f a Civil War Bandit

rounding this particular meeting may have been uniquely convivial for the mem­ bers o f the druzhina, but it is not unreasonable to assume that similar meetings took place on a smaller scale in areas considered less safe. Nevertheless, the activities o f Antonov’s druzhina remained limited, and con­ tacts with other groups o f antigovernm ent rebels are difficult to substantiate. Alleged contacts made with Denikin’s army in the summer o f 1919 were dramatic in quality but, like so many other such allegations articulated in 1920 and 1921— when Antonov’s insurgency was at its height— they were either baseless or thin on detail and documentation.36At its height in the summer o f 1919, the druzhina numbered an estimated 150 armed men. This was a sizable but restricted group— hardly a private army, but a stable armed and m ounted force that was easily dis­ tinguished from the typical “bandit” groups that roamed the countryside during the civil war period. The druzhina’s size contracted, however, the further it strayed from its extended base in southern Kirsanov, and activities were likewise more limited beyond this area. Officials in Saratov Province, for instance, reported that Antonov and his men were attempting to provoke disturbances in Balashov uezd in early August 1919, but these efforts did not directly produce significant distur­ bances for Soviet authorities.37 The group was also involved in supplying weapons to other rebels in Saratov Province, but these transactions were similarly small in scale and it is difficult to assess their impact.38 Somewhere between the elaborate allegations assembled by Cheka and Communist Party officials and the actual doc­ umentary record lies the truth about the direction and ambitions o f Antonov and his druzhina in 1919 and early 1920. There may well have been tension within the group itself, as the necessity o f self-preservation and the need for political purpose came into conflict as the months passed. The survival o f the group was itself a product o f the context within which it op­ erated. Antonov’s druzhina not only exposed itself to minimal risk in its “expro­ priations” o f collective farms and its attacks on government agents and Com munist Party members, but also operated in an area where they could rely upon a network o f personal contacts in the villages to provide needed informa­ tion and occasional shelter and supplies. Another factor was the limited extent to which the provincial government and uezd administration in Kirsanov were w ill­ ing or able to exact pressure on the druzhina. At the height o f the Volunteer Arm y’s advance on Moscow in July 1919, the Kirsanov revolutionary committee (revkom), an extraordinary body formed during periods o f heightened alert, was less able to assign security or military units to deal directly with the threat posed by rebels such as Antonov, and the revkom was instead limited to public appeals: “ It is time

The Making o f a Civil War Bandit


to say to all vile bandits: enough, lay down your guns, the revolution is in danger.”39 Faced with being overrun by counterrevolutionary forces, provincial authorities in Tambov authorized local soviet and Com munist Party officials to take hostages from among the local population to be punished in case o f further attacks and disruptions caused by “bandits” such as Antonov and his men. Such methods for controlling “bandit” attacks remained the practice o f the overstretched provincial adm inistration until the autum n o f 1919, when the revkom in Kirsanov uezd finally mobilized local Com munist Party personnel to form a special armed unit that would be charged with the capture or elimination o f Antonov’s druzhina. No sooner had this unit o f Com munist Party “volunteers” been formed and issued rifles and equipment than provincial M ilitary Commissariat officials in Tambov mobilized the Kirsanov antibanditry unit for service on the southern front. The hunt for Antonov and his druzhina was once again grounded. The hunt regained impetus two months later, when in October 1919 Antonov claimed the most significant scalp o f his ten-m onth-old campaign. The former chairman o f the Tambov Soviet executive committee, M. D. Chichkanov, had only recently been relieved o f his administrative responsibilities after the damaging raid by White cavalry forces into Tambov Province in August. Initially accused o f partial responsibility for the failure o f Red Arm y forces to hold the provincial cap­ ital o f Tambov, Chichkanov was first relieved o f his post during investigations into the affair. Although he was later vindicated by an official tribunal, Chichkanov nevertheless remained on leave from his post as executive committee chairman, during which time he was officially recuperating from “nervous disorders,” which, if not a convenient euphemism to permit Chichkanov s graceful exit from provin­ cial politics, presumably arose from the tense controversy surrounding recent events. W hile hunting with friends on 14 October, Chichkanov was brutally mur­ dered, along with a companion, another senior administration figure and C om ­ munist Party member. The murder was immediately attributed to Antonov, both because it was perpetrated at the heart o f Antonov’s area o f operations, just south o f Inzhavino, as well as the testimony by the lone survivor o f the attack, a local pharmacist named Kliushchenkov. That Kliushchenkov, who was not a Com m u­ nist Party member, was left untouched suggested that the murder was carefully planned and executed. Antonov never claimed responsibility for the assassination, nor did he ever deny it in his few known public pronouncements. The response by provincial officials to the assassination was dram atic and decisive in light o f their previous unwillingness to confront the threat posed by Antonov. The head o f the Special Section o f the Tam bov Cheka organization,


The Making o f a Civil War Bandit

M. S. Kedrov, was dispatched to the Inzhavino area along with V. M. Volobuev, chief o f internal security forces in Tambov. Their investigations into the murder contributed to the m om entum behind the campaign to deal once and for all with the Antonov problem in southeastern Tambov. Unable to call on necessary re­ sources in Tambov Province, they appealed for outside assistance. By the end o f October, the head o f the Internal Security Administration in Moscow, Valabuev, ordered a special unit o f over 200 men with experience in “antibanditry opera­ tions” from Saratov Province to concentrate on the elim ination o f A ntonov’s druzhina.40 The efforts o f this special unit, along with the attempts o f Tambov Cheka agents to locate and assassinate Antonov, continued for several weeks, yet, despite their occasional success in eliminating individuals known or suspected to have ties with Antonov, no decisive blow was delivered by state agents. Capturing or killing Antonov, in particular, was “ fiendishly difficult,” in the words o f the Tambov Com munist Party chairman, B. A. Vasil’ev— especially, he noted, when “he has his people everywhere, even in the party committees and the organs o f the Cheka.”41 This last detail may have been a convenient excuse, especially when in­ competence was frequently taken for subversion, but the frustration was likely to have been palpable, neverthless. Regardless o f their failure to capture or kill Antonov, or indeed any o f his clos­ est colleagues, provincial officials did force the druzhina and its leader to call upon all its contacts and confidants in order simply to survive. W hile the state o f siege, which had been declared in Tambov in June 1919 as Denikin’s forces threatened, was rescinded in the province in January 1920, in Kirsanov the local administra­ tion remained concentrated in the revolutionary committees, and curfews con­ tinued to be enforced, as the effort to combat the “antonovists” demanded the continuation o f martial law in the uezd.42The Cheka and Internal Security agents continued their operations until March 1920, during which time Antonov’s group shrunk considerably and their activities were likewise reduced. They remained within a safe radius o f Inzhavino, occasionally staying in villages with trusted in­ dividuals or setting up camp in the wooded areas and swamps that characterize that stretch o f the narrow Vorona River valley. Antonov was now established as the most prominent antigovernment political figure in the province, although he had made few substantial calls for popular support. Despite fears that he was preparing a major uprising against the Soviet government in Tambov, no such direction was evident in the observable activities o f the druzhina in the first weeks o f 1920. When the efforts to hunt down Antonov were scaled back in early 1920, this was in proportion to the perceived threat he

The Making o f a Civil War Bandit


represented to the Soviet government in the province. Attempts to capture and kill Antonov were left to quickly organized posses o f Com m unist Party members in Kirsanov responding to reports o f his presence in one locality or another. While he remained a threat to the safety o f government agents, he never truly threat­ ened to derail state operations in the countryside. It is only in hindsight that the provincial administration’s efforts to track down Antonov and kill him could be considered passive, for by all appearances in early 1920 Antonov conformed neatly to the bandit stereotype that featured prominently in the rare occasions when his name appeared in the official press in Tambov.

I t is enticing to examine what is known o f Antonov’s personal history for clues that can help us understand his fate as a rebel leader. W ithin the span o f such a short life that would end so dramatically, it is tempting to chart those thirty years along a single vector culminating in a spectacular end that was part idealism and part violence. So much o f this trajectory, though, was determined by circumstance and in response to rapidly changing conditions that Aleksandr A ntonov could hardly have anticipated its course at any point. As we shall see in chapter 3, even when Antonov and his druzhina appeared to have accurately read the political context and their activities projected a sense o f direction and purpose, their efforts were far from being an unmitigated success, and the group was forced to rely upon a variety o f contingencies that favored their cause. In this, A ntonov’s personal history provides an interesting parallel with the vectors o f popular grievance and political mobilization that animated and sus­ tained his followers. For there was nothing inevitable about the antonovshchina as a popular movement o f violent protest against the Soviet government; such griev­ ances had been evident from the very first days o f the revolution in Tambov’s vil­ lage communities, as elsewhere in rural Russia, and while the character o f these grievances had changed, they remained consistent enough to make localized out­ bursts o f violence in the countryside a regular occurrence. Those grievances were complex and diffuse, and although intense, they were insufficient to create a move­ ment like the antonovshchina. The type o f collective identity required to sustain a large-scale popular movement had to be forged in the course o f rebellion itself. O nly through the practical demonstration and experience o f rebellion would the insurgent leader truly find his feet, and only through practical experience would the partisan identity emerge as a basis for participation and solidarity among the villagers o f the Tambov countryside.



he event most commonly identified

as the starting point in the history

o f the Antonov insurgency involved government grain procurement agents

and the villagers o f the volost township o f Kamenka, in the southeastern corner of Tambov uezd, a short distance from the railway line linking the provincial cap­ ital to the town of Balashov, in Saratov Province. Owing to its proximity to the rail­ way, Kamenka emerges as a typical sort of village that would have suffered the full weight of state demands throughout the civil war period for grain and other ob­ ligations, as state agents were often reluctant to venture too far afield from their strongholds tied to the transport system. When, in mid-August 1920, state procurement agents were attacked by locals upon leaving the village o f Kamenka, the incident would not, at first glance, have appeared extraordinary to provincial officials. The beginning of the procurement campaign had been anticipated by grain producers and state officials for several weeks, as targets had been announced in July, before the harvest. The announce­ ment of these targets aroused a storm o f protest, from village communities and local officials alike, who protested the basis for such obligations in a year when


Conspiratorial Designs


bad weather had dimmed the prospects for a healthy yield from an area o f fields already suffering from three years o f civil strife.1 These fears were voiced in town and country alike and were the source o f regular comment in the provincial news­ papers.2 As early as May, when a particularly dry spring season had stunted the growth in the recently sown fields, the state newspaper, Izvestiia, attempted to dampen the anxiety shared throughout the province:

At the present time, it is clearly noticeable that the fields are suffering from a lack of moisture, as there has yet to be a single good rain since the very beginning of spring. Some are already prepared to put the blame on the “godless” Bolshevik government, while others explain the dry soils by pointing to the heavy winds that dried out the fields early in the season. Obviously, the latter explanation is the most plausible, rather than the one which carries the “political theme.” With a good sprinkle of rain, everything will quickly be revived. As yet, we have no reason to declare it a bad harvest.3

Even though the concerns over the harvest served as a backdrop to all protests against the planned procurement campaign, the experience o f similar campaigns during the harvest months o f the previous two years instructed state officials to expect resistance, often violent resistance. The autumn o f 1918 had seen a wave o f uprisings overtake the countryside o f nearly every uezd locality in Tambov, which did m uch more to upset the development o f local soviet administration in the province than to upset the procurement campaign for 1918-1919. In the following year, the campaign had been severely compromised by a major incursion by the counterrevolutionary White Arm y into the province. As a result o f the destruction and destabilization caused by M am ontov’s raid, the 1919-1920 procurement cam­ paign was delayed for several weeks, then pursued with a ruthless haste that did m uch to scar relations between the state and village com munities o f Tambov. W hile resistance to the procurement efforts in the countryside was not nearly on the scale seen in the previous year, the 1919-1920 campaign was instructive for provincial authorities, particularly in the local offices o f the Food Commissariat. The needs o f the state during times o f civil war must be satisfied over and above the “localist” concerns o f individual grain producers and rural communities; and in the end, cooperation could not be expected when state demands were made. These two experiences— the wave o f uprisings in Tambov (and in several other Soviet provinces at the time) that blighted the autumn o f 1918, and the experience o f M am ontov s raid— had a considerable influence on the response o f provincial administrators when events in August and September 1920 began to unfold. Already


Conspiratorial Designs

in August, before the incident in Kamenka, serious rural disturbances had been reported in M orshansk uezd, where agents o f the Food Com missariat and the Communist Party were attacked by locals, and where the village communities had proven especially resilient in their defiance to the state. Memories o f 1918 could hardly be avoided, as the disturbances arose in localities that had played a central role in the disorders and violence o f that autumn season.4 Likewise, when further disturbances broke out in Kamenka, to the south o f the provincial capital, by all appearances they were o f a sort with the 1918 events. The attack on the requisition squad outside Kamenka forced government officials to retreat to the village once more, so soon after having carried out a sweep through the com m unity for reserves o f grain. In this retreat to Kamenka, they were joined by another government patrol engaged in antidesertion measures. The combined government force, within the village o f Kamenka, was attacked once more, this time by an overwhelming number o f villagers and locals. O nly a small number m an­ aged to escape, the remainder falling victim to the wrath o f the crowd that quickly assembled around the spectacle o f violence. The spirit o f the crowd carried over, it was reported, into speech making and declarations o f radical defiance to the Soviet state, and the uprising immediately spread to neighboring communities.5 Perhaps with a view to the developing situation, and most certainly recalling the experience o f 1918, provincial authorities sought to take decisive measures to con­ tain the insurgency, particularly in Kamenka, at the heart o f the grain-growing region in Tambov. O n the evening o f 21 August, soon after the events in Kamenka had been reported, a temporary military command was organized to plan and co­ ordinate the state response. One o f their first measures was to isolate a fourteenvolost area around Kamenka— a sort o f containment zone— to be placed under a state o f siege (osadnoe polozhenie). A modest military force, primarily composed o f cadets from the local Tambov Twenty-first Reserve Regiment, was sent to Sampur, the major railway station nearest the insurgency, to reinforce the government troops already at the station, composed o f Red Arm y regulars, requisition squad m em ­ bers, and village militia. The cadets o f the Twenty-first, led by V. M. Vorob’ev, were instructed to continue along the rail line until the station at Rzhaksa, while the local Sampur force, under the command o f one NikoFskii, was told to move di­ rectly on Kamenka. It was hoped that an initial attack by the NikoFskii group would force the insurgents in Kamenka southward, where they would be intercepted by the second Red Arm y force under Vorob’ev. The initial attack on Kamenka, though, was thwarted, as N ikolskii’s men were met some twenty versts north o f Kamenka by insurgents and were forced to retreat to their base in Sampur. Vorob’ev’s men also fell back toward Sampur when the

Conspiratorial Designs


news o f the initial failure reached them. The following day, after receiving another sixty men on horseback as reinforcement, Vorob’ev’s force again tried to enter Kamenka, but once m ore they were rebuffed and took shelter in the village o f Chakino, where they were subjected to periodic sniping throughout the night from armed insurgents located on the outskirts o f the village. The Red Arm y force under Vorob’ev was only able to leave Chakino the following day, after the timely arrival o f government soldiers armed with m ounted machine guns on railcars. The government’s efforts proved meager in the short run, and the insurgency began to spread from village to village, as armed men traveled to neighboring com munities to sound the tocsin o f rebellion. M ore soldiers to strengthen the state force in the region o f Kamenka were difficult to find. In Kirsanov, one o f the uezds whose border was quickly being engulfed by the insurgency, local officials reported that they were unable to mobilize a force to contribute to the counter­ insurgency and that such a move would compromise the security o f the town o f Kirsanov itself. In Borisoglebsk, another uezd bordering the conflict, a force o f just over 100 was dispatched north to the region o f Kamenka. While this infantry com ­ pany was a mixture o f Red Arm y reservists and recently armed Com munist Party members, the Borisoglebsk force was able to enter Kamenka on the evening o f 24 August and encountered very little resistance in occupying the village. W hile a certain peace may have descended over Kamenka, the insurgency con­ tinued to engross the fourteen-volost region o f containment initially designated by the military command. The Tambov m ilitary commissar, P. I. Shikunov, trav­ eled to Sampur, where he sought to establish a command post nearer to the area o f the insurgency. He was joined by P. P. Gromov, a senior official in the provin­ cial Cheka organization. That same evening, Grom ov’s superior, Traskovich, was in Tambov, attending a meeting o f the Presidium o f the Tambov soviet executive committee and the Com munist Party at which the Cheka chief was openly criti­ cized for his organization’s failures. In light o f the stubborn resilience o f the in­ surgents, the Cheka was faulted for not having yet established the identity o f the rebels, who their leaders were, and what they were demanding. It was precisely this type o f investigative w ork that Traskovich’s colleague, Gromov, was to carry out in Sampur, and Traskovich subsequently admitted that the Cheka, and by implication the entire administration, had not concentrated on such intelligence work. It was only after nearly a week, following the government’s failure to be res­ olute in responding to the insurgency, that state officials recognized a potential qualitative difference in the character o f the present disturbances. Following the meeting with his colleagues o f the Tambov Presidium, Traskovich traveled to the Kamenka region with another group o f armed reinforcements to


Conspiratorial Designs

inspect the situation. While confirming that all was secure in the immediate vicin­ ity o f Kamenka, Traskovich nevertheless warned his colleagues in Tambov on 27 August that the insurgency was far from over.6 His colleagues were in little need o f such a warning, as Traskovich learned the following day. Soviet employees and Communist Party members from the volost o f Kniazhe Bogoroditskoe, only some twenty versts to the south, began to arrive in Tambov, having decided to evacuate following sustained attacks by rebel gangs. These attacks, so near the provincial capital, had seen the murders o f the secretary o f the volost soviet, a local agrono­ mist, and an official from the uezd food commissariat. The same day, there were reports o f new uprisings in northern Borisoglebsk uezd, expanding the scope o f the disorders and destruction.7 The inexorable spread o f the insurgency inspired the military commissar, Shikunov, to draft an order intended to dampen the en­ thusiasm o f village communities for contributing to the rebellion. “Order no. 5” identified twenty-two villages to be targeted for harsh retribution by government forces. Mass arrests o f the adult male population, wholesale confiscation o f private possessions, and the eventual burning o f houses and buildings— effectively the destruction o f these villages— constituted the creative response o f the M ilitary Commissariat in Tambov to the rebellion. Traskovich told Shikunov on 28 August that it was unlikely that this order calling for such retribution and terror— “an order composed in such a spirit,” as Traskovich put it— would be sanctioned by the provincial administration.8 The military authorities on the scene went ahead and advanced the order for sanction but altered it to exclude specific reference to burning the designated villages. But the option remained open, and the will to do so remained. W hen the Cheka sec­ retary in Tambov, Kulikov, asked whether retribution could be limited only to the insurgency’s known “sympathizers” in the villages, the state official in Rzhaksa explained: “ It will affect the entire population to a man, because in these villages everyone has participated and continues to participate in the insurgency. These villages must be wiped o ff the face o f the earth.”9 As the insurgency moved closer to the provincial capital, there was an emergency mobilization o f Com munist Party members to defend the city o f Tambov. In par­ ticular, the murders o f agents o f the Food Commissariat in Kniazhe Bogoroditskoe volost, so near to the provincial capital, served as the impetus for the chairman o f the Tambov soviet executive committee, A. G. Shlikhter, to travel to the volost to inspect for him self the nature o f the disturbances, with “a clear focus on the in­ terests o f food supply.” Accompanied by a small contingent o f military cadets on horseback, Shlikhter set o ff on 30 August, to execute “food-supply terror” (prodovoVstvennyi terror), a curious choice o f words that nevertheless communicates

Conspiratorial Designs


with a certain eloquence the chairman’s conviction that the disturbances were wholly connected to the onset o f the procurement campaign. Traveling from village to village, Shlikhter and the unit o f cadets encountered constant reminders o f the instability and the air o f defiance in the countryside. Advance parties o f cadets would return with reports o f small groups o f rebels moving in and out o f gullies and wooded areas, while the main unit was seemingly never out o f the sight o f villagers on horseback, taken to be “enemy scouts” shad­ owing the government force. The sound o f church bells accompanied the unit’s progress through the volost, warning o f their approach. O n their first day outside the provincial capital, occasional shots were fired at Shlikhter and his men, and they had brief confrontations with small groups o f rebels. But these incidents were never beyond the ability o f the government unit to control. The first night was spent in the large village o f Koptevo, where they took shelter in the local church. After rising the next m orning and crossing the bridge over the river that bisected the village, Shlikhter and his men met a significantly more serious group o f in­ surgents. Evidently, as word had spread o f the presence o f the government force (which was relatively small at 50 men), local insurgents had coalesced into a large group estimated by Shlikhter at 500-600 men. The machine gun in the posses­ sion o f the government unit was no longer a sufficient deterrent; Shlikhter and his men beat a hasty retreat back to the provincial capital, having managed to avoid any casualties.10 To provincial and m ilitary authorities in Tambov, the cadets represented the only reliable and capable armed force available to combat the rebellion. Despite the fact that the main garrison force in Tambov city numbered over 15,000 and the composite military force available in the province numbered over 33,000, only a small number o f cadets were considered capable o f fighting with any effective­ ness against the rural insurgents. This much was brought home by the recent ca­ pitulation by a small garrison force in the Kirsanov village o f Inzhavino, which was occupied by rebels after the garrisoned Red Arm y soldiers fled without firing a single shot, abandoning their guns and ammunition (including a machine gun) to the rebels.11 It was precisely this type o f behavior that was expected o f most o f the reserve Red Arm y soldiers available in Tambov, for they were either “deserters” or “natives o f Tambov,” as the Cheka chief, Traskovich, explained in a telegram to Red Arm y regional com mand in O rel.12 This was particularly true o f the large Twenty-first Reserve Rifle Regiment in Tambov, which contained some 11,000 “professional deserters,” and where, in the estimation o f the M ilitary Com m is­ sariat, “the deserters regularly discuss the shortcomings o f Soviet power, especially in the countryside.” 13


Conspiratorial Designs

The suspect Twenty-first Regiment was one o f those earmarked for transfer out o f Tambov Province when Traskovich sent his telegram to Orel on 29 August requesting significant reinforcements, in the form o f two battalions, to combat the uprising.14 Requests for reliable troops, with a corresponding concern with rem oving potentially unreliable garrisoned forces, recalled the lessons learned from the brief and tragic experience with General M amontov in August 1919, when the White cavalry corps unexpectedly attempted a raid behind the Red Arm y front lines in neighboring Voronezh Province. The trium ph o f the W hite cavalry was made simple by the capitulation o f local Red Arm y units, composed (like most reserve forces) o f one-time deserters. The most spectacular case was in Tambov city itself, which was occupied after the commander o f the Fourth Rifle Brigade (and temporary commandant o f the city) went over to the Whites with many o f his officers and the defense o f Tambov never materialized. Following the White cavalry raid into Tambov, many local officials were placed on trial for “defeatism” and other such charges, alongside the treacherous commander o f the Fourth Rifle Brigade. While these local officials were spared a guilty verdict, the experience was fresh in the minds o f many who remained in Tambov when confronted by the in­ surgency in August 1920, and this helps to explain their concern with securing re­ liable military units and sufficient firepower to deal with the situation.15 A n essential part o f the m em ory o f M am ontov’s raid in August 1919 was the sense shared by provincial officials that Tambov had been abandoned by the Red A rm y and by central authorities in Moscow. W hen Traskovich sent his initial telegram demanding m ilitary reinforcements, he included a request to have Red A rm y artillery stores in Tambov city and Morshansk opened up for use by the provincial M ilitary Commissariat. The local Red Arm y officials controlling the artillery stores initially refused the requests o f Traskovich and Gromov in Tambov, claiming that they had no authority to do so without sanction from M oscow.16 W hile the Cheka was quick to act on his demand to have units from Tula, Riazan’, and Saratov transferred to Tambov, they were silent on the request for artillery guns, shells, and rifle amm unition that were already located in Tambov but were outside the mandate o f provincial authorities. After waiting nearly two days for a response, Traskovich and other officials in the Tambov M ilitary Commissariat de­ manded that the arsenals be opened to combat the insurgency without the sanc­ tion o f M oscow or Orel. In addition to seizing several hundred artillery shells and some 80,000 rounds o f ammunition, provincial officials commandeered artillery guns from the local state repair works in Tambov. Informing Orel o f his decision, Traskovich stated that the insurgency was nearly out o f control and implied that

Conspiratorial Designs


the insurgents were threatening not only the strategically important gunpowder works located near Tambov city, but also the provincial capital itself.17 Orel, while granting Traskovich formal permission to access the Red Arm y ar­ senals, nevertheless remained critical o f the provincial authorities as they con­ fronted their latest crisis. At first Orel questioned whether Tambov actually had anyone sufficiently trained to operate artillery guns (there were a few, Traskovich pointed out), then insisted that the forces available in Tambov were sufficient to deal with a rural insurgency o f such proportions: “Experience teaches that all that is required is one or two salvoes from the artillery guns, and all the bandits will scatter without putting up a fight.” 18 Such an understanding o f the insurgency was difficult to square with reports com ing from the countryside. From Kirsanov, military authorities were issuing reports claiming that the patchwork o f units traversing the countryside had lost control o f the entire southern half o f the uezd. In Morshansk, it was reported, grain procurement work had come to a virtual halt, as village communities re­ fused to cooperate with government agents, awaiting the “outcome” o f the upris­ ings in Sosnovo, Pechaevo, and Zametchino regions. In Borisoglebsk uezd, a local official reported to Traskovich that there were two main insurgent groupings in the north o f the uezd and that “the initiative is entirely in the hands o f the rebels.” The problem, in part, was coordination among the scattered military units the government had deployed. In Morshansk, for instance, the uezd center had com ­ pletely lost contact with its military forces in the insurgent area, causing Traskovich to threaten Morshansk authorities with arrest if the situation was not corrected in short order.19 The problem confronting officials in Tambov developed in large part because o f their initial belief that the disturbances were typical rural uprisings based largely in individual villages. W ith so many reports o f rebels groups appearing in a vari­ ety o f locations, and with a conviction that a corresponding show o f force by the government would quickly dispel the threat, it was inevitable that the longer the insurgency lasted, the more scattered the government units on the ground would become. The commander o f the Twenty-first Reserve Regiment, K. V. Brimmer, at the time in the Rasskazovo region o f Kirsanov uezd, tried to press this point on officials in Tambov. In a conversation with Traskovich on 2 September, Brimmer stated: “O ur experience in the struggle with banditry tells us that the more dis­ persed our forces across districts, the more frequent will be our misfortunes---I would take another tack and concentrate all our forces to form a single fist and move to occupy one specific point, where we could destroy one enemy group with


Conspiratorial Designs

overwhelm ing force.” The process would then continue, he explained, and the force would move to a second point on the map and concentrate on destroying the enemy there.20 Another problem, as in Borisoglebsk and Kirsanov, was a simple shortage o f armed men. The arrival o f reinforcements from Riazan, Tula, and Saratov was ei­ ther delayed or simply disappointing. The Riazan unit had been hastily assem­ bled just days before transport to Tambov, and according to Traskovich the unit was composed almost entirely o f former deserters, with a distinctly “suspect” look. W hen Traskovich asked the unit’s commander if he could vouch for the depend­ ability o f the soldiers, the commander reportedly answered: “ I will make no such guarantees, it is possible they will refuse to fight peasants.”21 Borisoglebsk au­ thorities claimed that they had only 135 m en to handle rebels groups totaling nearly 600, while in Kirsanov the uezd military officials had only further Red Arm y capitulations to report following the brief occupation o f Inzhavino by rebels. Even nearer to the uezd center, the significant village o f Inokovka, located on the rail­ way line connecting Kirsanov and Tambov city, was also occupied after rebels eas­ ily overwhelm ed the government forces stationed there, reportedly killing seventeen soviet workers and Com munist Party personnel.22 Uezd officials began to sound the alarm as the rebels drew to within fifteen versts o f the town o f Kir­ sanov. In a telephone exchange with Nikolai Raivid, the secretary o f the provin­ cial RKP and a m ember o f the recently established m ilitary soviet, officials in Kirsanov expressed their desire to begin preparations for an evacuation o f the town, which only served to set o ff a heated altercation: Tambov [N. I. Raivid]: Comrade, you are only in a state of panic. How few forces do you have in Kirsanov that you are moved to begin fleeing from some simple bandits? Kirsanov [Sevostoianov et al.]: We have literally no forces. There are 120 armed se­ curity guards (karaul ), but these are guards and are not reliable. Tambov: How many armed Communist Party members do you have, how many rifles, bullets, and bombs, and what does the cavalry regiment have?23 Kirsanov: There are 60 armed Communists, rifles are either inoperative or without bullets, and we have no bombs. The cavalry regiment has nothing, and one squadron that was sent on Saturday to Inzhavino, armed with 30 rifles and the remainder with sabres, has disappeared following the occupation of Inzhavino. We have lost contact with all military units in the field. Tambov: What about the unit that departed Inokovka for Kirsanov? Kirsanov: No such unit bound for Kirsanov existed. The Inokovka unit has been

Conspiratorial Designs


acting entirely autonomously. Send troops immediately. Tambov: What are the enemy’s forces? Kirsanov: One group of 500-600 men, the majority of whom are armed with rifles, bombs, and revolvers, and also have cavalry. Tambov: OK, [Military Commissar] Shikunov has just arrived here, and we will consider the situation together. Two hours ago an infantry battalion set off for Inokovka, and if possible we will instruct them to continue on to Kirsanov. Brace yourselves, and don’t allow yourselves to fall into a panic. Kirsanov: Nobody here is panicking, but this type of situation requires all our courage. You should spend less time talking and making demands, because now it is the bandits who have taken control of events, and I am telling you now about what is going on with those bandits, about how this has been going on for nearly twenty days, and the bands are growing more and more confident while our units are only gradually pulling themselves together. Tambov: Enough of this panicky conversation, the insurgency is not spreading. I am through here. All that is required has been done. Kirsanov: Fine.24 Indeed, Raivid stated on the same day, in another conversation, that he was “convinced” that the government’s efforts were satisfactory and that the rebels were isolated to two definable regions o f the southeast o f the province, SampurRzhaksa (Tambov uezd) and Inzhavino-Inokovka (Kirsanov uezd). No new forces were required, he insisted, only ammunition, which was in desperately short sup­ ply.25 His confidence, though, was unique amid reports o f regular insurgent attacks and widespread violence— often o f an alarming cruelty— that arrived from gov­ ernment agents and local administrations.26 W hile the local uezd officials may have felt abandoned by their superiors in Tambov, provincial authorities felt that the situation confronting them was being similarly dismissed by officials in M oscow and Orel. This was almost a perfect re-creation o f the bureaucratic divisions that emerged during and immediately after the W hite cavalry raid in 1919. O ne m an who was not a m ember o f the provincial administration at that time but was now the chairman o f the soviet ex­ ecutive committee, A. G. Shlikhter, traveled to M oscow to communicate directly to Lenin the seriousness o f the situation. Shlikhter had sent telegrams reporting to M oscow about the insurgency, but M oscow’s continued silence on the matter m oved him to travel to the Soviet capital, recalling the regular visits made by provincial governors to Petrograd during the tsarist era.27 Despite this long tradi­ tion in Russian public life, Shlikhter’s decision to travel to Moscow on 8 Septem-


Conspiratorial Designs

ber was no less extraordinary. Before Shlikhter’s departure, the provincial authorities sent a telegram to Moscow, explaining their situation and announcing the imminent arrival o f the provincial soviet chairman: Tambov Province. For the past three weeks, an intense rebellion of peasants and deserters, orchestrated by the right SRs, has been ongoing in Kirsanov, Borisoglebsk, and Tambov uezds. Because of the acute shortage of troops, guns, and ammunition in the province, the recently organized military soviet has been unable to deal ex­ pediently with the insurgent movement, which has now reached a massive scale and threatens to continue its escalation and to overrun new territories. There have been instances in which state forces have been forced to retreat due to a shortage of rifles and ammunition. Thus far, the bands have killed upwards of 150 rural Communists and provisions workers, and they have seized from our small state military units up to 200 rifles and two machine guns. Four soviet farms have been sacked. All state grain procurement work has come to a halt. More than once, we have informed the regional military authorities in Orel, as well as the Cheka and Internal Security administration in Moscow, but to this date we have not received sufficient troop reinforcements or, most important, shipments of rifles. Therefore, we come to you as a measure of last resort.28 Several themes are condensed into this brief report, themes that were to continue to influence events for the remainder o f the year. For the time being, we shall focus on the initial claim, in which Shlikhter communicates to Lenin and the AllRussia Soviet Executive Committee (VTsIK) that the rebellion has been created and orchestrated by the opposition socialist party, the Socialist Revolutionaries (PSR).

THE OUTBREAK OF THE INSURGENCY AND THE PSR It is perhaps ironic that, at the same time Shlikhter departed for M oscow to de­ liver his report and to brief VTsIK and the M ilitary Council (Rewoensovet), rep­ resentatives o f the Tambov PSR were taking part in a clandestine party conference in the Soviet capital. During the one-day conference, attended by only nineteen party members (nine o f whom were based in M oscow itself), the Tambov dele­ gates reported on party activities during 1920, including a description o f their role in the ongoing insurgency.29 The reemergence o f the PSR as an organized opposition in Tambov Province during the civil war was described by the Tambov delegates as arising when the

Conspiratorial Designs


PSR Central Committee, in the spring o f 1920, called on local organizations to abandon exclusively “legal” work within the Soviet system.30 In sanctioning the possibility o f underground, clandestine opposition activity— a decision made with an eye to the imminent end o f the White counterrevolution and the passing o f the illusion that the Com m unist Party would be willing to tolerate rival socialist parties— PSR activists moved from their previously “nonpolitical” work in the consumer cooperatives and trade unions and embarked on openly contentious activities courting mass involvement. They signaled their intentions on the May Day holiday when they sent to the Tambov soviet executive committee a written protest concerning the treatment o f industrial workers and peasants. A second written protest followed, again signed by the Tambov PSR organization. The provincial soviet authorities had no clear idea o f the extent o f the PSR organiza­ tion in Tambov, for the once powerful party, which had clearly taken the lion’s share o f ballots in the 1917 Constituent Assembly elections and with such a history in the province in the early twentieth century, effectively melted away once the Bolsheviks took over the reins o f government in Tambov in April 1918. The prospects o f an SR revival were made slightly more tangible during the failed “Week o f the Labor Front,” one o f a long number o f soviet-led shock cam ­ paigns to boost industrial production, held in June 1920. The outbreak o f a strike in the city o f Tambov, at the railroad car repair works (the largest employer in the city), marred the government’s campaign, as did further demonstrations o f op­ position sentiment during rallies organized to m obilize support for the Labor Front in other uezd towns. “ Shady individuals,” wrote the uezd officials in Borisoglebsk during the campaign, “have begun their counterrevolutionary work, and they are finding stable footing among the masses.” 31 At the September 1920 PSR conference, the Tambov delegates also reported having published two issues o f the local party gazette, Land and Freedom, printed on the hectograph, the tried and true instrument o f the underground political party. Two local party confer­ ences had been successfully convened in 1920: one for Tambov uezd, with seven members participating, only four o f whom were representing a local cell; and a sec­ ond for the pro-vince as a whole, but which included representatives from only four organizations — three uezd PSR groups and one from Tambov city.32 These orga­ nizational accomplishments must be considered modest at best and demonstrate the limited extent to which any PSR organization had survived the previous two years


Soviet rule in the province. But alongside these traditional party activities were the novel pursuits o f party activists in the countryside, the PSR’s traditional base, particularly in a province


Conspiratorial Designs

such as Tambov. The PSR delegates reported to the September 1920 conference that they had been active in organizing party “brotherhoods,” small and exclusive associations akin to the basic party cell that recalled the nascent rural associations organized by the PSR leader Viktor Chernov during his brief period o f internal exile in the 1890s spent in Tambov Province.33 The progress made with these brother­ hoods was limited, as the delegates admitted they numbered “no more than ten” at the time o f their report. The real progress, it was believed, was being made in a second line o f activity, the organization o f “Unions o f the Toiling Peasantry” (STKs) in the villages o f Tam­ bov Province. The project o f organizing such unions was set out in a 13 M ay 1920 party circular, written by Viktor Chernov.34 In describing their progress in pro­ m oting these new institutions, the Tambov representatives o f the PSR were buoy­ ant. Village STKs had been established in Kirsanov, Borisoglebsk, and Usman uezds, as well as in the northern uezds o f the province. In Tambov uezd they were particularly successful, with the SR representative claiming that “one-half” o f the volosts possessed an STK. (At the time, Tambov uezd was composed o f fifty-eight volosts.) Evidently, this success in Tambov uezd encouraged the representatives to convene a regional conference o f the STK, although with only four volost organ­ izations participating. As detailed to the delegates at the September conference, these organizational developments appeared impressive. But what was the intended purpose o f the STKs? In their explanation, the Tambov delegates in M oscow specifically identified the two primary tasks for the STKs: [First,] removal of the Communist Party from power and placement of power in the hands of a new provincial government, which will be composed of representatives of the peasantry, the [trade] unions, workers’ organizations and socialist parties, and which should work toward the convening of all-Russian congresses of the laborers, which will resolve the matter of the future form of government; second task— the full realization of the law on socialization of the land. W ith the PSR officially banned by Soviet authorities in Russia, and with its lead­ ers either in prison or on the run, there was little hope that legal work would be allowed to resume under the Com m unist regime. In its occasional pronounce­ ments in the first months o f 1920, the PSR Central Com mittee acknowledged this fact but never went so far as to endorse direct action against the Soviet govern­ ment, preferring instead to stick to the policy o f “organizing the masses” that had been settled upon at the party’s Ninth Conference. This policy was the product o f

Conspiratorial Designs


the idealism o f many senior officials, who maintained a firm commitment to the idea o f democratic socialism and a corresponding fear o f the spontaneity o f Russ­ ian popular movements, which were compromised by a significant strain o f the vi­ olent and antidemocratic tradition in Russia. Thus, the STKs were envisioned as institutions that fostered democratic ideals and practice among the masses, ideals that would in time give rise to opposition strong enough to topple the Bolsheviks and principled enough to engender a democratic and socialist successor state. But such a position failed to check several o f the PSR’s professed followers from charting their own course, some even going so far as to support avowed counter­ revolutionaries as long as their program remained exclusively anti-Bolshevik.35The official line on the STKs, as reported in the PSR press, was that these “nonparty” in­ stitutions would facilitate a prigovornoe dvizhenieythat is, generally to focus popu­ lar opposition to the Soviet regime by orchestrating a petition campaign similar to that undertaken vis-à-vis the monarchy in 1905, in which village communities ex­ pressed their grievances. The description o f the STKs offered by the Tambov dele­ gates certainly went further than this, but the delegates underscored their conviction that these initiatives were in keeping with the spirit o f the party, even recalling their commitment to the party’s policy on socialization o f the land.36 Still, these words offered by the PSR delegates referred to organizational activ­ ities through the summer o f 1920. By the time o f the conference in Moscow, the rebellion in Tambov Province was entering its fourth week. What tied the Tambov PSR to the rebellion, as the Soviet authorities now alleged? Certainly the confer­ ence delegates were true to their words when they urged party support for the re­ bellion in Tam bov and for other such popular insurgencies against the Soviet regime. They defended the practice o f terrorism against the Communists, in light o f the Soviet government’s use o f such methods in suppressing the insurgencies. What they called “counterterror in defense o f the peasantry” had already in fact been threatened in Tambov. O n the same day as the conference in Moscow, Traskovich was informing his colleague, Raivid: The SRs have sent to the presidium of the soviet executive committee an anonymous letter in which they demand that the red terror be halted, and they give us a threeday deadline. If their demand is not met, they are threatening their own terror against Communists and Jews, particularly targeting Shlikhter, me [Traskovich], you [Raivid], Zbruev, Shikunov, and all the other comrades, and they express their confidence that nothing and no one will help us [in fighting the insurgency], not the cadets, the recently arrived soldiers, nor the machine gun-mounted automobiles. What do you have to say about this?


Conspiratorial Designs

Raivid replied curtly, quoting a Russian proverb: “ If it’s wolves that scare you, then stay out o f the forest.”37 Such actions by PSR members in Tambov city, though, were seemingly in re­ sponse to the ongoing clashes between government forces and village com m uni­ ties. So what o f the rural STKs organized during the summer o f 1920? The PSR delegates at the September conference are curiously silent on this matter. In fact, only one contemporary source mentions the activity o f these STKs following the outbreak, and that source contends that they were quickly “ liquidated” by the provincial Cheka in the weeks following the first clashes. This claim was made by Iurii PodbePskii, a Tambov native and senior SR activist, who at the time o f the outbreak was living in M oscow while maintaining regular links with colleagues and friends in Tambov. PodbePskii made his claim in a letter to the chairman o f the Moscow Soviet Executive Committee (Lev Kamenev) in July 1921, as PodbePskii was being held on charges o f conspiracy, charged with being among the PSR leaders o f the Tambov rebellion.38In protesting his innocence, PodbePskii, who had w rit­ ten an article on the Tam bov rebellion for the m ain PSR journal published in Prague,39 claimed that his party had nothing to do with the insurgency. More im ­ portant, while not contesting the notion that the STKs were intended to lead a movement against the Soviet government, PodbePskii claimed that the provincial Cheka had efficiently dispersed the peasant unions which had been organized in the summer o f 1920— that is, before they could even react to the violent events that were consuming the southern half o f the province. Therefore, any notions that the PSR had instigated, let alone been the leaders of, the rebellion were mistaken. Leaving aside questions about the veracity o f an account formed as part o f a protest o f innocence produced while in jail, there are two points worth raising about PodbePskiis claim about the STKs. First, PodbePskii is the only source that makes this claim. There are no contemporary documents from the Soviet side, let alone from the provincial Cheka itself, that attest to the dismantling o f a network o f PSR unions. W hat is more, and this is the second point, it is doubtful that the provincial Cheka in Tambov would have been up to the task, even if they knew that such a network existed.40 As we have seen, the head o f the Tambov Cheka, Traskovich, had come under heavy criticism early on for his organization’s in­ ability to pinpoint the nature o f the insurgency and the identity o f its leaders, and the Cheka was also subsequently criticized for having done nothing to prevent the rebellion. In fact, the future Moscow plenipotentiary who would take over the counterinsurgency effort in February 1921, Vladim ir Antonov-Ovseenko, called the Tambov Cheka organization an “utter disgrace,” a judgment echoed by others

Conspiratorial Designs


as they reflected on the rebellion from the perspective provided by the passage o f several months.41 All these doubts point to a central problem with evaluating the involvement o f the PSR in the first period o f the insurgency: to what extent can the PSR in Tambov be considered a cohesive organization? The point has been made before with regard to the Socialist Revolutionaries. W hile enjoying huge popularity and recognition among the majority o f the people (particularly in an agrarian coun­ try such as Russia), it had lacked a viable organization, especially at the local level, throughout nearly all o f its history in mass politics. This critical insight explains how the most popular party in the country, as evidenced by the Constituent As­ sembly elections in November 1917, could turn into a “nonfactor” through much o f the civil war. Theirs was a popularity based more on association than on alle­ giance, particularly in a place such as Tambov, where the PSR had never experi­ enced the type o f com petition for sympathies and votes that w ould have stimulated the development o f a viable organization in the villages and volosts.42 This is partially demonstrated in the first weeks o f the insurgency by a letter ad­ dressed to Lenin and Sovnarkom, sent by Ivan Gaevskii— “and comrades”— who claimed to represent the Kirsanov uezd organization o f the PSR. In this letter, Gaevskii and (presumably) the other Kirsanov SRs attempted to speak for the in­ surgency, explaining the goals and demands o f the rebels. The result is a confus­ ing document, not least because its audience is evidently intended to be Soviet authorities in Moscow. They wrote to Lenin,

We are fighting not on behalf of individual factories, nor for land, but for our beloved freedom. There lies the essence of our wishes. In order to defend this, we must maintain strict discipline at the present moment. Everything we do should work in support of our general interests, and disgraceful behavior and drunkenness must not be tolerated. If drunkenness is to set in, then it is better to abandon now our war for beloved freedom. At present, we are gathering together deserters, but these same deserters do not see how we are now conducting ourselves worse than hooligans.43

Gaevskii s letter, seemingly criticizing and celebrating the insurgency in equal measure, demonstrates how the PSR in Tambov cannot be considered an organ­ ization at the heart o f a conspiracy that gave rise to the rebellion. W hile there may have been individuals with PSR affiliation or sympathies who emerged as active participants in the rebellion, the majority o f party members were responding to


Conspiratorial Designs

the outbreak o f the conflict. The result, in part, were responses such as Gaevskiis, whereby individuals or groups o f SR members and sympathizers sought to inter­ pret the seemingly elemental insurgency and to articulate a set o f legitimate goals or ideals to be paired with the grievances animating the violence. Such a variety o f responses reveals a PSR organization in the province that was hardly in the midst o f coordinating an elaborate conspiracy to overthrow the Soviet regime in Tambov. If we can discount the direct role o f the PSR organization— not only in a con­ spiracy, but in the creation o f a significant network o f STKs— we are still left with the persistent allegation o f a connection between the PSR and the insurgency. This charge centers upon the man who links the party to the rebellion in all versions o f the events. This is Aleksandr Stepanovich Antonov, the rural terrorist o f the Tambov countryside through much o f the civil war period.

EVALUATING ANTONOV S ROLE According to Iurii Podbel’skii, Aleksandr Antonov had claimed throughout much o f the summer o f 1920 to represent the PSR. In claiming this association, Antonov was leading a campaign to organize groups o f villagers for an imminent insur­ gency against the Soviet state. The implication o f the information provided by PodbePskii, o f course, was that Antonov may have been easily linked to the PSR, but his activities were not directly connected to the party and its efforts in the countryside. Going even further, Podbel’skii asserted that any and all who later claimed an affiliation with the PSR after the outbreak o f the rebellion in Tambov had no formal connection to the party, thus absolving the organization from any responsibility for the violence against the Soviet state.44 In the version o f events elaborated by Podbel’skii, Antonov assumed a signifi­ cant role in the actual uprising only after the provincial organization o f the STK (and by implication the Tambov PSR organization) had refused to sanction the up­ rising that began in Kamenka. Meeting with a group o f local villagers in Khitrovo, a village located not far to the north o f the Kamenka area, a regional committee o f the STK, under the influence o f two senior members o f the Tambov PSR who were present, declared that the organization would not support the insurgents in Kamenka, owing to their clearly hopeless situation. The declaration by the re­ gional STK, though, did nothing to halt the escalation o f the conflict. According t


Podbel’skii, the real force o f the rural insurgency was focused on a growing “peas­ ant march” on the provincial capital, Tambov.45 Gaining speed and strength like a

Conspiratorial Designs


tum bling snowball, local villagers from the Kamenka area began moving north toward Tambov, taking in new insurgents all the time until, not fifteen versts from the city, they were forcibly repelled and dispersed by reinforced government troops. In this way, according to Podbel’skii’s version o f events, the “ spontaneous” phase o f the uprising came to an end as the defeated peasant rebels retreated to their native districts. It was at this time that Antonov emerged onto the scene, to­ gether with loyal and organized units o f local deserters and villagers, to assume the m ande o f the insurgency, in spite o f the recommendations o f the Tambov PSR and the provincial STK organizations.46 In Podbel’skii’s words: “Antonov . . . ar­ rived on the scene only after the elemental peasant movement had been suppressed by Soviet forces, thus beginning the partisan phase o f the Tambov rebellion.”47 In actual fact, Antonov had been rallying anti-Soviet sentiment in the villages o f Kirsanov and Tambov uezds for nearly two years, focusing particularly on the ever-increasing pool o f young men who had evaded military mobilization to the Red Army, or who had grown disaffected with m ilitary service in the reserve gar­ risons and labor units found throughout Soviet territory. W hile Antonov’s core group o f active followers (his druzhina) remained small during these early months, they nevertheless did court popular support as early as the summer o f 1919. State­ ments taken in 1921 from arrested participants in the rebellion attest to occasional gatherings o f villagers that were addressed by Antonov and members o f his cohort urging young local men not to serve in the Red Arm y and to resist the demands o f the Soviet state, such as for grain.48 One o f these meetings in mid-1919, according to many eyewitnesses, was at­ tended by several thousand local villagers from a four-volost area in Kirsanov uezd. There, one o f Antonov’s closest associates and a native o f the region, Ivan Ishin, addressed the crowd, urging them never to agree to serve in the Red Army, despite the encroachments o f the counterrevolutionary W hite armies from the south. Such an extraordinary meeting was made possible, according to these eye­ witnesses, by the local soviet administration, headed by men known to be SRs, or at least anti-Bolshevik sympathizers, who turned a blind eye to the proceedings.49 But even if the com plicity o f known or suspected SRs was required, we should not conclude that the PSR as an organization was intimately connected to Antonov’s activities. Indeed, in some cases, the soviet officials who effectively worked with Antonov were former members o f the uezd militia in Kirsanov, suggesting that a shared personal history with Antonov was m ore significant than a strict party affiliation. While these two factors are not mutually exclusive, the fact that such ac­ tivities went against the prescribed policy o f the PSR Central Committee again illustrates the independence o f rural and local PSR members.50


Conspiratorial Designs

Antonov’s activities in 1919 had little to do with organized conspiracy, at least concerning the outbreak o f the rebellion in 1920. According to one Soviet source, Antonov and his druzhina were calling such meetings to encourage deserters to or­ ganize their own “self-defense” units for the villages.51 This may well have been the case, even if none o f the eyewitnesses mentions such concrete initiatives. While Antonov and the druzhina continued their terrorist activities through 1919, their attacks on Com munist Party personnel, requisition squads, and antidesertion pa­ trols remained largely free o f involvement from the surrounding community. And while the size o f the druzhina fluctuated, it never sought to assume a mass form, remaining a limited but effective nemesis for government agents in southeastern Tambov Province.52 But this hardly excludes the possibility that other druzhiny, in part inspired by Antonov, were similarly active in the region. The work o f govern­ ment agents in the countryside was structured, in large part, by a continual stream o f information relating to “green” attacks in the region, or rumors o f Antonov’s possible presence in the vicinity.53 The turn o f the year 1920 brought a change in direction. This was signaled by a letter, postmarked 18 February 1920, sent by Antonov and his druzhina to the offices o f the Kirsanov uezd militia. In the letter, Antonov addressed the “Comrade Com m unists” about what he considered to be slanderous treatment o f him self and his men. With words steeped in irony, Antonov taunted the Kirsanov militia— few o f whose members would have known Antonov during his days as m ilitia chief— and, perhaps unwittingly, revealed that a change in the orientation o f his activities had been gestating: It has been brought to our attention, C om rade Com m unists, that in w ishing to slander m yself and m y comrades before the toiling peasantry and all o f free-thinking Russia, w e have been labelled “bandits,” ascribing to us participation in the robberies that have plagued the volosts o f Treskino, Kalugino, Kurdiukov, and other volosts contiguous to this region. Such impertinence is w orthy o f the bureaucrats o f the old regime. I am m ore than certain that, if you are indeed veritable democrats, and that i f yo u lo o k deep into yo u r souls, glistening as they are w ith the sacred blo o d o f the toilers, you w ill say to yourselves: “ M otivated b y weakness and spite, we sling unm erited accusations, slurring the names o f citizens we kn ow frill well to be u n ­ deserving o f such disgrace, indeed, are not even capable o f such crimes.” Insofar as we know o f the desire o f the Com m unists to tarnish our names before the toiling population, desires that have by no means been realized, I hope that in the future they persist. For this acts as a further guarantee that the politically conscious toilers o f Russia w ill continue to gravitate toward us. As evidence that w e are n ot am ong those bands that engage in looting, we direct your attention to the follow ing facts:

Conspiratorial Designs


the Karavain band, under the leadership o f Berbeshkin, a m an well know n to you, has n ow been liquidated b y us. T he troops under Berbeshkin and his lieutenant A rtiushko can be found in the area o f Kenzar’, 100 sazhens to the right o ff the road that connects the villages o f Kurdiukov and Rasskazovo. O ther such bands, if you ask, can be delivered to a specific location, or can simply be revealed to you; moreover, we consider it our duty to inform you that in the struggle against criminality, we are always ready to extend to you our assistance. C on cernin g this offer, you can com m unicate your reply via Izvestiia, or b y som e other means. Concerning the above, I ask that the uezd com m ittee o f the Bolshevik Party be inform ed. Sincerely, A ntonov.54

As mentioned in chapter 2, officials in Kirsanov had devoted much attention to the elimination o f Antonov before the arrival o f this letter, extending martial law in the uezd and assigning a Cheka unit exclusively to the pursuit o f the rural terror­ ist. In one instance, at the end o f 1919, they had come tantalizingly close to killing Antonov in the village o f Inokovka, a fact that may have only strengthened Antonov’s reputation.55 It may have been as a result o f such pressure that Antonov turned to a more as­ sertive stance, as signaled by the letter reproduced above. There is also, to be sure, a measure o f mockery in the letter, as Antonov informs the Kirsanov officials o f his own measures taken in the “war on banditry” As the Kirsanov Cheka con­ ceded, the above-mentioned Karavain band had been “ liquidated,” as A ntonov claimed. Nothing is known o f this incident, but it suggests the likelihood o f Antonov’s organizational work among deserters, creating “self-defense druzhiny,” and the further possibility that one o f those druzhiny devoted itself to robbery. O n the other hand, it is similarly likely that the Karavain band was simply another gang like hundreds o f others throughout the civil war countryside. Although less likely, the Karavain band may have even been a rival gang to Antonov’s, thus falling victim to a sort o f civil war-era tu rf war.56 If the full intent o f the letter were to taunt local authorities, it would explain why it was sent to the uezd militia in Kirsanov rather than to a more senior or prominent office within the province. Yet, revealed in the letter are more profound claims signaling that the rural terrorist was looking to assume a more significant role for his activities. Consistently belittled in the local press and in official pro­ nouncements as a “bandit,” Antonov directly addresses the question o f his wor­ thiness.

Q uestioning








authorities— whether they are “veritable democrats”— and invoking the legitimacy o f the “toiling masses” who support them, the letter asserts Antonov’s own revo­ lutionary credentials at the expense o f the claims o f the Com munist Party. To that


Conspiratorial Designs

question o f worthiness, the letter adds the assertion that the people are “gravitat­ ing” toward the opponents o f the Com m unist Party, such as Antonov, and that that movement is gaining mom entum all the time. Finally, in announcing the liq­ uidation o f the Karavain gang, and cheekily offering to perform similar policing measures in the future, Antonov and his group are demonstrating the extent to which it is they, and not the Soviet authorities, who are in control o f the Tambov countryside. It would be wrong to suggest that these were more than just assertions. Antonov was ultimately an outlaw who, for all his contacts within the government appara­ tus and his popularity in the villages, was still a local terrorist whose activities were losing relevance as the civil war progressed. On the national scale, the antiBolshevik movement was retreating further and further. There was little in the way o f organization or vision offered by the opposition parties, both within the province and nationwide, and the longer Antonov’s band remained a small-scale enterprise engaged in terrorism, the more the “bandit” label would gain credibil­ ity.57 And this would be damaging to Antonov’s standing in the countryside, as well as injurious to his pride as a veteran o f the Russian revolutionary movement. Even those members o f Antonov’s band without similar credentials would have to question the trajectory o f their activities, especially as pressure from the author­ ities was mounting. In April 1920, an uprising occurred in the Kirsanov village o f Ramza, an event that failed to set o ff another round o f rural disturbances but is often considered an early attempt by Antonov to raise a popular insurgency in the province. A moderate-sized village in the center o f the uezd, Ramza had played host to multiple attacks by rural gangs and was located in the heart o f the territory frequented by Antonov’s druzhina whose forest, lakes, and marshland provided them ample cover. Even though rural rebels were a com m on feature in this part o f the province, armed bands had never entered the villages o f central Kirsanov and made direct overtures to the local population.58 Over the Easter holiday, a band o f such armed men entered Ramza, led by six prim ary figures, o f whom Mikhail Parkin was identified as the leader, dressed as he was in the long black leather overcoat typically associated with the Cheka and one o f the preferred trappings o f certain opponents o f the Soviet state.59The Easter holiday was a particularly favorable time to attempt to incite rebellion, being not only a period o f religious ritual and com m unity celebration, but also a peak pe­ riod for desertion by m ilitary conscripts, as Red Arm y soldiers (particularly those from nearby reserve garrisons) returned to their native villages to help with the spring sowing as well as to participate in the festivities. W ithout any clear ex­

Conspiratorial Designs


planatory circumstances, such as the presence o f a requisition squad in the vil­ lage, a band o f some twenty rebels entered Ramza and assembled a crowd o f vil­ lagers. There they explained that they had “secret” governm ent docum ents regarding a planned “Week o f Death,” during which the Com munist Party had ordered wholesale killings in local communities to coincide with the “counter­ revolutionary” religious festival o f Easter. Passing out rifles to some o f the vil­ lagers at the meeting, Parkin and his colleagues urged the crowd to rise up and strike out against their local Com munist Party members.60 The crowd gathered around the volost soviet, and Parkin’s men, supported by thirty or forty armed villagers, set upon the soviet offices and archive, destroying docum ents and m urdering the Com m unist Party members inside. In all, nine were killed, as Parkin’s men and the villagers also attacked the families o f the party members, murdering two children, aged two and eight. A small group o f villagers were dispatched to the neighboring village o f Burovetsina, with the aim o f spread­ ing the uprising. Burovetsina did not respond to this overture. By nightfall, a squad o f sixteen men, led by the uezd militia chief, Maslakov, entered the village, and found the band o f rebels gone and the village in an anxious, but passive, state.61 The next m orning, Maslakov convened an assembly at which he explained the ab­ surdity o f the rumored “Week o f Death.” Allegedly, the villagers responded by sur­ rendering twenty-three men who had taken an active part in the violence.62 A separate militia detachment conducted a search for the rebels, which led them to a nearby lake (presumably either Chernets or Il’men’ lakes), and a lake is­ land suspected to be a base for the rebels. W hen the militia patrol set o ff on small boats to reach the island, they came under a barrage o f rifle shots and small ex­ plosives, during which two militiamen were severely injured and the group was forced to retreat. The arrival o f an artillery cannon and machine gun improved the situation for the government forces, and an extended bombardment, as if laying siege on a medieval fortress, subdued the resistance from the rebels on the island. The landing party found the bodies o f eight men killed as a result o f the siege, as well as a small arsenal o f bom bs and firearms. The actual leaders and members o f the armed band involved in the Ramza incident, though, were not among those killed. Instead, they were caught in separate searches in the surrounding coun­ tryside over the following days. In all, nineteen men fell into the hands o f the uezd militia and the Cheka, the last o f whom was Fedor Makarov, killed in a shoot-out with authorities in the village o f Kabrinskoe.63 Investigations and interrogations o f those caught found that the uprising were not part o f a coordinated attempt by the so-called Green A rm y to spark a general rebellion against the Soviet government in the province. Despite the fact that the


Conspiratorial Designs

violence occurred in the heart o f the territory dominated by A ntonov and his druzhina, investigators found no evidence to connect the instigators o f the Ramza uprising to Antonov.64Instead, according to their testimony, the actions by Parkin’s men were prompted by the desire to exact revenge on the local Ramza C om m u­ nist Party cell, whose members had killed three men associated with the band in a raid on the group’s hideout.65 Inciting the local population to violence was the tactic chosen by this group o f rebels for vengeance, although it was maintained by later investigations that the majority o f the killings were done by members o f the band, and not by locals. O n 22 July, all nineteen rebels were executed by firing squad.66 Having had nothing to do with the failed uprising in Ramza, it was found, Antonov and his activities remained largely unknown to Soviet authorities in the province during the summer o f 1920. Reports from agents concerning the organ­ ization o f a “green army” by Antonov in the region o f southwestern Kirsanov uezd were as detailed as certain sources could offer, and it was subsequently appreciated that the “bandit movement” had entered a subdued phase following the Ramza uprising.67Yet, as members o f the PSR in Tambov were aware, the terrorist Antonov was active, invoking the authority o f the party in his efforts. According to Podbel’skii, Antonov began organizing “party cells” just as the PSR was rejuvenating its own network o f contacts in the countryside, and Antonov had succeeded in creating such cells in Tam bov and Kirsanov uezds, although it was reported that these numbered no more than ten. In doing so, he claimed to be working on behalf o f the PSR, even identifying him self as a party member. For this transgression, sen­ ior PSR representatives in the province offered Antonov a choice: either stop in­ voking the authority o f the PSR in his activities, or submit to the party line and continue with “ ‘peaceful’ organizational and cultural work” among the peasantry. To be sure that Antonov was safely marginalized if he agreed to submit to the party line, the representatives also insisted that he confine his organizational work to the northern uezds o f the province, well outside his established base o f activi­ ties. This, though, was never an issue, as Antonov rejected the ultimatum.68 A later source confirms that the Tambov PSR had confronted Antonov during the summer o f 1920. Following his investigation into the outbreak o f the rebellion in O ctober 1920, the Tambov Com m unist Party chairman and m ember o f the provincial m ilitary soviet, Raivid, concluded that the PSR had revoked Antonov’s party membership during the summer owing to his activities in organizing a con­ spiracy.69 Raivid and Podbel’skii could have been touching on the same incident, but each had separate assumptions regarding Antonov’s formal political affilia-

Conspiratorial Designs


tions, with Podbel’skii insisting that Antonov was not a party member and Raivid assuming that he always was an SR. According to individuals w ho witnessed Antonov’s efforts in organizing a conspiracy, he traded heavily on his personal history as an SR activist. In the Kirsanov volost o f Kalugino, one o f the villages in the heart o f Antonov’s area o f activity, the first meeting arranged by Antonov took place in July 1920. The meeting was an extremely limited affair, in which Antonov, Ivan Ishin, and Antonov’s brother, Dmitrii, met with four locals who were known to be in sympathy with the opponents o f the Com munist Party. Am ong them was Pavel Egorevich Akimov, a forty-eight-year-old villager from Novoe Kalugino. According to his testimony after his arrest in 1921, the first meeting was first addressed by Ishin (a native o f Kalugino), who spoke o f the Com m unists’ treatment o f the peasantry and the need to depose the Com m unist-dom inated Soviet government. The legitimate authority remained with the Constituent Assembly, which must be reconvened. Following this, Aleksandr Antonov rose to speak, concentrating on his own in­ volvement in the political struggle, both against the Com munists and as an SR activist working underground since 1905 against the imperial regime. Concluding this first meeting, the conspirators assured their small audience that “throughout Russia everything has already been arranged, and only Tambov Province remains to be organized.” Two weeks passed before a second meeting with the rebel leaders in Kalugino. During this time, two local schoolteachers, Belugin and Anikin (both later ac­ cused o f having connections with the PSR), began propagating rumors o f an im ­ minent insurrection against the Com m unist government, to begin with a signal from the “center.” As to what this “center” represented, Akim ov’s testimony is un­ clear. But at the second meeting Ivan Ishin was more concrete about their designs. According to Akimov, “ Ishin told us at this meeting that there remains only a lit­ tle time before the rebellion begins, first in the center and at the front, and that we have three days to speak with hiding deserters, in order to prepare them for the re­ bellion.” So over the next three days (the actual dates are unknown), the local con­ spirators in Kalugino worked on gathering together known deserters and other volunteers, organizing them into small groups, and distributing weapons.70 This same story was repeated in other localities in the weeks leading up to the outbreak o f the insurgency, primarily in villages where Antonov and his associates already had established firm contacts among prom inent members o f the com ­ munity. Podbel’skii contends, in his article on the insurgency, that many o f these cells organized by Antonov quickly broke with the rebel leader when they learned


Conspiratorial Designs

that, in fact, the PSR was not preparing for an insurgency.71 There is little evidence to support this claim. It seems possible, instead, that Antonov believed he was act­ ing according to the designs o f the PSR and that his influence was formidable enough, particularly in southwestern Kirsanov uezd, to see his voice carry the au­ thority o f PSR intentions. Antonov’s activities in organizing an armed conspiracy against the Soviet government could well have been undertaken with the con­ fidence that he was acting in accordance with the designs o f the PSR Central Com ­ mittee, which had recently called on its local organizations (in fairly ambiguous terms) to abandon strictly “legal” work under Com munist rule. Thus, according to this interpretation, senior PSR officials in Tambov, in rejecting the prospect o f armed insurrection in the near future, were themselves misreading the intentions o f the PSR Central Committee. If Antonov’s statements concerning the leader­ ship role o f “the center” remained vague, as recorded in statements from eyewit­ nesses, it bears remembering the indications given in his February 1920 letter to the Kirsanov militia that the rural terrorist held a fine-tuned sense o f his own revo­ lutionary credentials and that he harbored ambitions for his activities. If, as seems likely, Antonov was the one misreading the intentions o f the PSR Central C om ­ mittee in undertaking preparations for an armed insurgency, it is not difficult to understand why he did so. One area where Antonov’s influence was most robust was along the border o f Kirsanov and Tambov uezds. In this region, his contacts among former PSR ac­ tivists were particularly strong, although these individuals were not among those serving in the soviet administrations, as in the Kalugino and Treskino area. Instead, in the region o f Kamenka, Aleksandrovka, and Verkhotsen’e, the local Communist Party cell, which filled the vital posts in the local soviet administration, had been under a constant threat from their opponents in the local community. These in­ cluded individuals with whom Antonov had close and long-standing ties, such as Grigorii Naumovich Pluzhnikov and Efim Ivanovich Kazankov. Over the months previous to the outbreak o f the uprising, the Communist Party cell in this area had suffered considerably at the hands o f these local opponents, enduring multiple assassination attempts (some o f which were successful) and living under the con­ stant threat o f violence.72 According to a former member o f this local Com m unist Party cell (Toporov), such acts o f terror on the part o f opponents combined with the despotic activi­ ties o f the various “agents” o f Soviet power in the countryside— the grain pro­ curem ent squads and antidesertion patrols— to leave his part o f the province virtually without local soviet government. This permitted the likes o f Antonov to

Conspiratorial Designs


cultivate a safe “nest” in the area o f Kamenka.73 According to m ost accounts, the uprising in August 1920 effectively began in Kamenka. Most single out opponents o f the Soviet regime in Kamenka as having begun the uprising, declaring the ini­ tial clash between grain procurement agents and local peasants to be the first event o f a major anti-Soviet insurgency.74 In his October 1920 report on the outbreak o f the uprising, Raivid advances much the same story, adding that the conspirators in Kamenka were inclined to declare the rebellion, in part, because o f mounting pres­ sure in the area from the local agents o f the Cheka in Sampur.75 Once again, such claims involving the provincial organization o f the Cheka are likely to be false. According to Toporov, the Kamenka Communist Party member, provincial officials had shown no interest in local warnings about the activities o f political opponents in


Kamenka region, warnings that had been made repeatedly during the summer o f 1920.76 This claim aside, Raivid s picture o f the beginning o f events and the reac­ tion o f the PSR, in particular, jibes well with the version advanced from the other side by PodbePskii. Both see the Tambov PSR-sponsored STK (at its gathering in Khitrovo) quickly deciding, when confronted with the developments in Kamenka, that the uprising o f the Kamenka peasants should not be endorsed, in large part because it had attained such a degree o f seriousness owing to the influence o f Antonov and his supporters. However, these two versions o f events differ in how the events unfolded, and in their relationship with Antonov, in particular. In calling the Kamenka insur­ gents to discipline, according to Raivid, the STK in Tambov was asserting its own authority over these developments. For him, the fact that the insurgency contin­ ued was enough to ascertain the true intent and will o f the STK, and thus o f the PSR. For PodbePskii, the decision o f the Tambov STK not to endorse events effec­ tively absolves that organization, and by association the PSR, from any responsi­ bility for the continuation o f hostilities. In this, the key factor was Antonov, for it was he, in defiance o f the provincial STK, who continued to fuel events. Judging by the way the events unfolded, it is entirely plausible that the initial clashes in Kamenka were unplanned and, most important, unknown to Aleksandr Antonov.77 The circumstances that surround the initial clash, involving a local requisition squad and, later, an antidesertion patrol, were unremarkable in the context o f the civil war countryside. But the forceful showing o f the local com ­ m unity in the course o f this first clash, which saw both government forces beaten and bloodied, indicates the extent to which the conspiratorial machinations o f the regime’s opponents in the villages o f Tambov had placed the countryside on


Conspiratorial Designs

a hair trigger and perhaps boosted the confidence o f average village communities in the area. Given the extent o f Antonov’s contacts in the Kamenka region, it is safe to assume that his efforts to organize local deserters, among others, had progressed substantially, possibly including the distribution o f guns to those who had already volunteered. When the Kamenka villagers set upon the requisition squad that had only just completed a sweep through the village and was en route to the local rail­ way station, the organizational foundations for concerted defiance were already in place. If the Tambov PSR and its peasant union organization refused to “sanction” the uprising that began in Kamenka, Antonov most certainly did, and the groups that he had organized in other villages and regions quickly followed suit, attack­ ing village and volost soviets, Com m unist Party cells, and state farms. It was in these first days following the events in Kamenka that the conspiracy arranged by Antonov, involving multiple small forces o f local villagers, was revealed to be ei­ ther still in its infancy or simply poorly organized. There was never a plan behind the actions and movements o f these rebel groups, nor was there any com m unica­ tion among them. On the one hand, as reported by Red Arm y soldiers who had been briefly captured, some groups o f rebels (in northern Borisoglebsk uezd) be­ lieved the insurgency had begun prematurely, and these rebels were considering abandoning the struggle and returning to their native villages, possibly to wait until plans were more advanced. Meanwhile, other groups were busy declaring the great victories already won by rebels, some o f which were as yet unverified, such as the claim that the rebels had occupied the gunpowder mill outside Tam­ bov city, one o f the m ost im portant strategic m ilitary assets in the province.78 Antonov himself, it was reported, announced to a crowd in the village o f Ramza, briefly occupied on 5 September, that the rebels would soon attack both Kirsanov and Tambov city.79 The fantastic claims made by rebel groups, such as those in south-central Kirsanov uezd, where government troops had been outnumbered and outmaneuvered, was a direct expression o f their growing confidence. Reports such as those from Ramza, which suggested a sense o f unity and pur­ pose among active insurgents, gave further evidence o f an elaborate conspiracy at work. The idea that a degree o f organization lay behind the disturbances was also suggested by reports that detailed some o f the symbols that accompanied rebel activities.80 The quick appearance o f recognized slogans, although often misreported (perhaps with the undeclared aim o f discrediting the insurgents), both alarmed governm ent authorities and confirm ed to them that simple popular grievances were not the sole explanation for the disturbances. According to one military operations report, filed on 5 September from the area o f Sampur station

Conspiratorial Designs


(not far from the Kamenka region), the observed rebel groups included men o f all ages from the local villages who brandished flags with embroidered or painted slogans, such as the PSR motto, “In struggle you will secure your rights,” as well as “Long live the Union o f the Toiling Peasantry,” and “The true path to freedom is away from Bolshevik repression.”81 For government officials, there was no apparent distinction between Antonov’s involvement and the involvement o f the PSR, nor any incentive to indulge such a possibility. For all intents and purposes, the two strains o f the conspiracy behind the insurgency were indistinguishable. The first reports o f Antonov’s participation in the disturbances— which would have been anticipated— only confirmed the overall implication o f the PSR organization.82 But neither Antonov nor the PSR was directly responsible for the outbreak o f the insurgency, even if both parties were quickly drawn into the rapidly developing events.

SHUKHTER’ S REPORT W hile invoking the name o f the PSR, or o f Antonov, may have contributed to the credibility o f local reports to the central Soviet government in Moscow, the in­ volvement o f the PSR would hardly raise the eyebrows o f officials in the capital, given that the party was such an important feature o f the real and imagined world o f anti-Bolshevik counterrevolution. And the involvement o f the PSR could only have been expected in a rural insurgency, especially in a central Russian province such as Tambov, where the Soviet government was itself weak and where the PSR could claim a long tradition o f involvement in local politics. Thus when A lek­ sandr Shlikhter arrived in M oscow in the second week o f September 1920 to de­ liver his report on the insurgency in Tambov Province, it should com e as no surprise that the pernicious involvement o f such usual suspects as the PSR played a central role in the provincial soviet chairman’s pitch for more substantial help in quelling the disturbances. A summary o f Shlikhter’s report, copies o f which were delivered to Lenin and to the M ilitary Council secretary, E. M. Sklianskii, detailed point by point the sit­ uation confronting the provincial administration and the measures local officials believed would be required to regain control over the Tambov countryside: 1. The rebellion has overtaken the three m ost grain-rich uezds o f the province: Tambov, Kirsanov, and Borisoglebsk. 2. T he forces currently available to suppress the rebellion stand at 3,500 men.


Conspiratorial Designs

Included in that number are: units of Tambov military cadets, grain procurement squads, and Cheka units sent as reinforcement, at our request, from Riazan, Riazhska, Tula, and Saratov. 3. Given these forces, the Tambov Military Council considers it possible to sup­ press the rebellion, but only under the following conditions: (a) the liquidation of the rebellion will require no fewer than 3-4 weeks; (b) surrounding and destroying the bandits, including those who have appeared in the south, in Novokhoper uezd [Voronezh Province], is not possible with the troops now available. The bandits can be driven away and dispersed, but they will be able to once again regroup and recommence a partisan war. 4. Because of the military operations, procurement work throughout the mas­ sive region of the rebellion has for the time being been halted; a continuation of the rebellion for a further 3-4 weeks will result in the abandonment of procurement work, and the razverstka will be impossible to fulfill. 5. The fulfillment of the Narkomprod razverstka for Tambov province (11.5 mil­ lion pood of various foodstuffs) can be secured only after an immediate liquidation of the rebellion.83 W h ile S h lik h ter d eta iled th e n u m b e r a n d ty p e s o f re in fo rcem e n ts re q u ired to s u p ­ p ress th e re b e llio n in T am b o v , in c lu d in g th e n ee d to tra n sfe r p o te n tia lly u n stab le g a rris o n e d u n its o u t o f th e p ro v in c e (w h ic h h a d a lrea d y b e g u n in sp ite o f th e fo r­ m a l re q u e st m a d e h e re ), th e p ro v in c ia l so v ie t c h a irm a n ’s re p o rt fo c u s e d o n th e co st o f th e p re se n t d istu rb a n ce s to th e o n g o in g c a m p a ig n to re q u is itio n g ra in .

It will be recalled that the original telegram sent by Tambov, informing Moscow o f Shlikhter’s imminent arrival, was composed in large part with the participation o f a senior Narkomprod official, A. I. Sviderskii. The real cost o f the insurgency was to be counted not so much in the bodies o f Com munist Party members and soviet personnel, nor was it considered an alarming indication o f mass discon­ tent with Soviet power in the countryside, or even o f a new plot by opposition groups to topple the regime. The m ost direct threat highlighted by Shlikhter, a food supply specialist in his own right, was the potentially vital threat posed by the rebellion to the cam paign to requisition grain. The overarching concern with procuring grain for the army and the cities, both critical to the survival o f the regime itself, was the continuing factor that shaped the Soviet government’s strat­ egy in dealing with the insurgency in Tambov for the remainder o f 1920.


ust days before


Chairman Shlikhter’s meeting with officials in Moscow, there

were clear indications that the Soviet government was aware that the situation

in Tambov was worsening. From their perspective, there was an obvious need for

practical improvements in the efforts of authorities to reimpose order in the coun­ tryside. On 9 September 1920, Iurii Aplok, a senior commander in the Internal Security Forces (VOKhR) administration tied to the Southern Front Command in Orel, was notified of his appointment as head o f the armed forces in Tambov Province, taking over from the local military commissar, Shikunov. Aplok’s ap­ pointment was announced to officials in the Tambov administration by the head of Internal Security Forces in Moscow, Vasilii Kornev, whose organization would assume the leading role in the state’s armed activities in the province in the fol­ lowing months.1 The armed forces at the disposal of the provincial government in Tambov were principally oriented toward the procurement o f grain, and their in­ ability to mount sustained operations against organized rebels had been clear from the very beginning of the violence in the countryside in August and early Sep­ tember. With the task of imposing a stronger measure of structure and organiza­



The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov

tion upon the armed forces in Tambov, in addition to augmenting those armed forces, the announcement o f Aplok’s appointment to the province was accompa­ nied by the following instructions for Tambov officials issued by Kornev in Moscow: 1. Draft a plan o f action and follow it consistently and steadily. 2. D o not disperse units too sparsely, but conduct operations only w ith over­ w helm ing force. 3. Take concrete measures to im prove coordination and com m unications be­ tween units. 4. Place the provincial Cheka in charge o f reconnaissance and intelligence. 5. Ensure that active units are well supplied w ith arms and am m unition, as well as other necessities. 6. Give attention to rearguard troops and ensure that there are no instances o f looting. 7. C on duct thorough searches o f “ liberated” villages, rounding up deserters and collecting concealed firearms.2

These were practical measures, as well as general principles, that focused attention upon the necessity o f conducting sustained operations that remained constructive. As such, there was no m ention o f punitive measures in Kornev’s instructions. There was instead an emphasis upon the systematic and consistent conduct o f government forces, basic to any counterinsurgency effort. Further insights into the nature o f the rebellion would be offered by concerned individuals much closer to the ground. Following the announcement o f the di­ recting role to be played in the province by Internal Security forces, a Com munist Party member and journalist for the local newspaper in Kirsanov sent a letter to Kornev offering observations on the mainsprings o f the rebellion and the strategy the government should follow in putting an end to the violence. The journalist, identified only as Vodkin, prefaced his comments with an explanation that he had spent much time traversing the countryside now embroiled in the conflict, con­ ducting dozens o f meetings with local communities in the months leading up to the outbreak o f hostilities and becom ing familiar with the grievances and con­ cerns o f the local population. Vodkin began by stating that the people in the dis­ tricts m ost affected by the violence were “typical m iddle peasants, proprietors whose overarching concern for their private property has been undiminished by the revo-lution, and they are therefore principally conservative and risk-averse.” Such people, Vodkin went on, valued order and security most o f all, and they ap­

The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov


preciated any measures that would protect them from disruptions to their every­ day lives.3 The implication was that the violence was brought upon the village com m u­ nities from without. The people in the countryside placed no stock, according to Vodkin, in the slogans o f the SRs, Mensheviks, or other political opponents o f the regime, and any propaganda that was being conducted by these political opponents and any promises they advanced for a better future under a different government were effectively undermined by their own conduct, which victimized everyone, especially the average villagers in Kirsanov uezd, where most o f the rebels’ activ­ ities had been concentrated. The population o f the region saw the rebels as mere bandits, stated Vodkin— consciously preferring the older Russian term razboiniki to the relatively m odern one, bandityy to emphasize just how cynically locals viewed the insurgents and their disjointed political claims. The disruptions and depredations o f the razboiniki did not, however, enforce allegiance to the Soviet government. The experience o f those communities with Soviet rule over the pre­ vious three years had taught them that the Soviet government was neither pow­ erful, and thus som ething to feared, nor willing or able to enforce laws and preserve order in the countryside, which would have made it something to re­ spect and value. The local population was effectively caught by the ongoing in­ surgency in the countryside without clear allegiance to either side, although there were those who had been willing to support the rebels principally out o f a vague hope that things could be returned to the familiar conditions o f the old regime. This latter sentiment, while prominent, was dismissed by Vodkin as ill-informed nostalgia, but he nevertheless recognized its potential to effect political behavior in the short term. Vodkins recommendations to Kornev were many, and perhaps naturally for a journalist, contained a bias toward the importance o f strengthening political work and disseminating information throughout the countryside. But the basic objec­ tive, according to Vodkin, was to suppress the insurgency while winning the respect o f the local population, assuring them o f the state’s commitment to law and order in the countryside. Those entrusted with waging the campaign against the insur­ gency in the region must, according to Vodkin’s concluding words, “display firmness rather than cruelty. [A successful conclusion to the conflict] will be achieved only if the comrades assigned to the campaign know precisely who their enemies are and also appreciate what they can and cannot demand o f the local population.”4Such an assessment indicated the low regard o f observers o f the conflict, such as Vodkin, for the conduct o f government troops and counterinsurgency efforts to date.


The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov

Aplok arrived in Tambov to assume command o f the situation with an air o f condescension that would continue to characterize relations between central and regional officials and provincial authorities for the rest o f the year. The appoint­ ment o f a commander from Orel served as a recognition that local officials were not up to the task o f dealing with “ bandits” and that competent leadership had to be brought in from outside, in a way that had characterized Moscow’s relationship with the provincial administration through much o f the civil war.5After he joined his colleagues in the newly formed M ilitary Council in Tambov on the evening o f 10 September, Aplok was made aware o f the uncertain tactics local commanders had followed in the first weeks o f the insurgency, initially abandoning large force concentrations as too sluggish, then realizing that reliance upon more numerous, smaller units only compromised coordination and multiplied the number o f weak targets for rebels to attack. The net effect was to lose the initiative, allowing the rebels effectively to dictate when and where engagements took place.6Aplok began the restructuring o f active armed forces in Tambov, replacing the small units that had previously sought to counter the rebels with similar partisan-style operations and form ing them into more traditional brigades and regiments to establish a unified front to contain the violence within a defined territory. W hat was clear to Aplok, however, was that the situation in Tambov was de­ fined by a familiar problem with banditry rather than more organized anti-Soviet elements. Such banditry, which had been characteristic o f Soviet provinces through­ out the civil war, had been a constant feature o f the Tambov countryside for decades, according to Aplok, although the present manifestation was certainly distinguished by its scale. But the important features remained the same— attacks on vulnera­ ble Com m unist Party members in the countryside, ambushes o f small units o f government troops, and sacking Soviet state farms were all classic tactics o f ele­ mental banditry that at the same time revealed the inability o f local officials to manage the situation. Such violence would continue, Aplok stated, as long as cer­ tain individuals such as Antonov remained at large, but he confidently declared that a m odi-cum o f control over the countryside could be established in a matter o f days following his arrival.7 The confidence that the violence would soon exhaust itself was informed by the conviction that the rebels did not enjoy the sympathy o f the local population— yet another distinguishing characteristic o f banditry as understood by Soviet offi­ cials. W hile there were numerous small groups o f armed rebels containing up to thirty men, only one or two significant groups were occupying individual villages and making overtures to the local population to support the ongoing insurgency. As a government-published leaflet stated, such overtures to assembled community

The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov


members typically contained erroneous claims, such as news that the Soviet gov­ ernment had been toppled in M oscow and Petrograd and that Soviet rule truly survived only in the southern half o f Tambov, while the remainder o f the province, and indeed the country, had been “liberated.”8Tambov officials received reports that the rebels were not receiving overwhelming support and often relied on coercion in their interactions with communities, such as in their regular need to negotiate with villagers for fresh horses after their high-speed travels between villages had exhausted their animals. The rebels5violence against villagers who did not coop­ erate became a prominent theme in government propaganda, as did the threat that villages that did provide support or sanctuary to the rebels could expect se­ vere reprisals like those begun in late August, when the provincial administration authorized the burning o f entire villages as punishment for acts o f violence against government and party personnel.9 There were indications that these threats were having the desired effect, such as when Kirsanov authorities reported that several villages in the Inzhavino region had been willing to fulfill their quotas for grain procurement as an expression o f loyalty to the Soviet government.10 Under Aplok, the forces engaged in the counterinsurgency operation were re­ organized, and the uezds were placed on a partial war footing with the formation o f local military councils (voensovety).u Internal Security (VOKhR) units were brought in from other provincial centers in September, while further groups o f unreliable soldiers were removed from the garrisons in Tambov and reassigned to localities beyond provincial borders. By the end o f the month, the number o f troops available for the counterinsurgency effort had grown from almost 3,000 to just over 4,000. Government troops, operating in six separate groups, had nearly two dozen machine guns and several artillery guns at their disposal. But the troops available to commanders in Tambov were almost exclusively foot soldiers. The number o f mounted troops remained minuscule, considering that the estimated 6,000 insurgents were overwhelmingly on horseback. M obility remained a prob­ lem and inhibited the effectiveness o f government troops.12 But the improvements in organization and coordination achieved in Septem­ ber did produce practical results, as the six operational groups o f government troops worked to contain the spread o f the violence and created opportunities for attacks on the identifiable clusters o f armed rebels. W ith the pressure from gov­ ernment forces fairly constant, rebel groups were unable to establish a foothold in any given village, even if they could rely upon superior speed and m obility to frus­ trate Aplok’s efforts to establish a clear front against the bandits. The largest group o f rebels remained, however, far superior in numbers to the government’s forces, and attempts to engage the rebels at various times in September typically ended


The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov

in hasty withdrawals by government units. The opportunity to engage the rebels in sufficient numbers did not arrive for the commanders in Tambov until virtually the end o f the month, long after Aplok’s optimistic forecast for the end o f the insurgency had passed. Having established a base o f operations in the village o f Shabolovka in Kirsanov uezd, the main or­ ganized rebel force was divided into four groups dispersed in villages on both sides o f the border between Kirsanov and Tambov uezds. From these locations, the groups conducted small raids in the surrounding countryside for several days, ac­ cum ulating property looted from state farms and soviet administrations while attracting additional active participants from among the local population. It is impossible to ascertain what the plans o f Antonov and his associates were at this particular juncture; they may have treated it as an opportunity to take stock o f the situation following the intense and chaotic events o f the previous weeks. But the effect o f this breathing spell in late September was very nearly disastrous for the insurgents. Weighed down by carts filled with looted goods, when the main rebel group went on the move once more, they were attacked by a much larger government force than they had previously encountered. Over 800 government cavalry and foot soldiers attacked at the village o f Kozmodem’ianskoe, and gov­ ernment officers reported around 600 insurgents killed in the engagement, a ver­ itable massacre (if government reports are to be believed) that also destroyed over 130 carts filled with supplies and looted property. While several hundred insur­ gents either survived this attack or had evaded it, it represented the single great­ est success the newly reorganized government forces in Tambov had enjoyed in the six-week-old conflict.13 O n 30 September, the Soviet administration in Tambov appointed a three-man com mittee to review the available materials relating to the mainsprings o f the rebellion. Included among these were statements taken from captured bandits and from members o f the PSR, arrested in September in the provincial capital.14 Reporting on the com m ittee’s findings only five days later at a m eeting o f the Soviet Executive Committee, the secretary o f the Tambov Communist Party, N. Ia. Raivid, described the organization at the core o f the rebellion, which he assumed had been defeated in the final days o f September. At the heart o f the conspiracy were local SRs, whose preparations for an armed insurgency were inspired by the instructions o f the PSR Central Committee. At some point, according to Raivids description o f the available intelligence, those preparations were hijacked by in­ dividuals such as Antonov and his closest associates— Boguslavskii, Ishin, and Tokmakov— as well as by circumstances in the countryside, where clashes between government requisition squads and villagers pushed events faster and further than

The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov


anyone anticipated.15 Raivids report on the conspiratorial core o f the rebellion was followed by the more reassuring words o f the provincial soviet chairman, Shlikhter, who insisted that popular participation in the rebellion was far from universal and that many villages had not only refused to take part in the rebellion, but also actually resis­ ted it by denying the rebels any material support. He suggested that the Food Commissariat reward those villages by delivering various supplies and m anufac­ tured goods (but only after they had fulfilled a significant portion o f their targets for food procurement).16 In a telegram to Lenin, sent soon after the meeting o f the Tambov Soviet Executive Committee, Shlikhter wrote o f his personal interroga­ tion o f captured rebels in the previous few days, and how all had willingly de­ nounced the rebellion and asked forgiveness for their actions. The vast majority o f those captured and sent for interrogation, Shlikhter assured, had been released “ in the name o f Soviet power and Lenin.” 17 Later investigations into the violence in individual localities completed in late October and November 1920 focused particularly on popular participation in an effort to gauge the sympathies o f the wider population o f the region toward the in­ surgents. Many o f the conclusions drawn from these reports, produced by the Cheka after surveys conducted in the Inzhavino and Sampur regions, where disturbances continued throughout October, emphasized the separation o f the village com ­ munities from the active insurgents and underscored the “marginal” or “crim i­ nal”











Inzhavino-Rasskazovo region, Cheka investigators emphasized the fact that very few individuals actually joined the rebels and that the rebels at no time conducted formal m obilizations, except insofar as they drove members o f the com m unity to perform various duties for them, such as transporting carts o f supplies or, in some cases, even digging trenches. No more than 1,000 men— mainly “ hardened” deserters,



actually joined up with the rebels in this area o f over 20,000 residents. W hile this was far from insignificant, the course o f events in the area had seen the local popu­ lation grow overwhelmingly opposed to the rebels. Even though the initial wave o f violence brought multiple scenes o f cruelty against soviet and Communist Party personnel that suggested wider com m unity involvement (albeit prompted by the entry into a locality by an armed group o f rebels), and it remained impossible throughout much o f the region to reestablish regular soviet administration, the Cheka investigators confidently judged that enthusiasm for the rebellion had quickly evaporated.18 The same initial enthusiasm followed rapidly by suspicion and opposition was


The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov

noted by Cheka agents to characterize developments in the Sampur region over the course o f September and October 1920. Giving general figures to illustrate their point, the members o f the investigating team reported that at the moment o f the outbreak o f violence in the area, nearly 80 percent o f the local population sympathized with the insurgents. This degree o f support was attributable, the agents claimed, to the intense underground political work conducted by the PSR in the weeks immediately preceding the outbreak o f violence in late August. The categories employed to measure participation, from the typical division o f the re­ gional population into familiar, and politically loaded, socioeconomic terms (kulak, middle peasant, and poor peasant) to the speculative evaluations o f the percent­ age o f the local population voluntarily and forcibly mobilized, all reinforced the picture o f a wider population in the Sampur region ultimately reluctant to en­ gage with the insurgent, or “bandit,” m ovem ent.19 Such findings reinforced the overall tone set at the October m eeting o f the Tambov Soviet Executive Committee. The message was generally reassuring— the rebellion had been a narrow conspiracy, it had been defeated, and the regime could rely upon a measure o f popular support that the rebels themselves did not enjoy after several weeks o f violence in the countryside. The priority for the provincial government now, as ever, was to direct the energies o f the provincial administra­ tion and available military forces to the requisition campaign. W hile groups o f bandits were still active and continued to thwart the operation o f local adminis­ tration and threaten the activities o f government agents in the countryside, the re­ bellion as an organized uprising had been “ liquidated” by O ctober 1920. The bandits had failed to establish popular support and could not be considered a sub­ stantial challenge to Soviet authority in the province.

SMVifilNfi THE BAIVERSTSA The collection o f grain in the southern portion o f the province, upon which nearly half o f the target for the 1920-1921 campaign in the province had fallen, had been seriously disrupted by the violence o f the previous weeks. Collection had largely ceased in Kirsanov, Tambov, and Borisoglebsk uezds, where numerous armed bands had attacked government agents, state farms, and grain elevators. From the first days o f the violence, nervous uezd officials had ordered the withdrawal o f armed requisition squads to the uezd towns for defense in the case o f a rebel attack. Any progress that had been made in the campaign during September and October 1920 had been completed in regions as yet unaffected by the insurgency. W hile some o f

The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov


this had been accomplished in areas such as northern Tambov and Kirsanov uezds, the bulk o f the progress with the campaign had been in the central and northern uezds o f the province where agricultural production was notably less intensive, but this was not enough to compensate for the shortfalls being experienced on account o f the insurgency.20The entire machinery o f provincial administration in Tambov had developed around this single task o f procuring grain, and the need to regain this focus dictated many o f the decisions taken in October, after the worst o f the violence seemed to have passed. The chairm an o f the Tam bov Soviet, Shlikhter, communicated to Lenin in the beginning o f October that, although he recognized that the insurgents were far from destroyed, he would place Red Arm y troops stationed in the province at the disposal o f the Food Com missariat to reinforce procurement efforts.21 W hile measures had been taken earlier by the M ilitary Council in Tambov to organize the defense o f the provincial capital against possible attacks by rebels from the surrounding countryside, Shlikhter admonished officials in the uezds for their independent decisions to withdraw requisition squads to the uezd towns to bolster their own security.22 Similarly, Aplok undertook measures to form avail­ able military forces into two principal groups: one devoted to antibanditry oper­ ations in Kirsanov, Tambov, and Borisoglebsk uezds— which he took at this time to be “m opping up” operations— and another that would augment available req­ uisition squads to return grain collection rates to the levels expected by the Food Commissariat before the outbreak o f the violence.23 The use o f military and in­ ternal security forces for requisitioning was seen as one vital way o f making up for the shortfall in personnel committed to requisition work.24 Com munist Party mobilizations in the broader territories most affected by the violence consistently failed throughout September 1920 to produce the desired number o f volunteers. The reluctance o f party members to perform requisition duty was understandable in light o f the situation in the villages, where it was re­ ported that rebels were m axim izing the political effect o f their attacks by con­ ducting show trials o f captured Communist Party members before executing them publicly. The towns were the main destination o f Communist Party families evacu­ ated from the countryside, who often arrived with no possessions following rebel attacks.25 Nevertheless, the failure o f such mobilizations remained a source o f great frustration for provincial administrators, whose reassurances about the progress being made by the government produced little effect on party morale. Often the only Com m unist Party personnel who could be relied upon to assist m ilitary forces in the area o f the insurgency were those who were originally based in the countryside and whose families had been safely evacuated.26


The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov

The provincial administration would need to overcome the anxiety shared by uezd-level officials and rank-and-file Com m unist Party members to succeed in restoring the campaign to procure grain in the southern half o f the province. With much o f the network o f soviets in the villages and districts operating irregularly, if at all, because o f evacuations and persistent rebel attacks and threats, the re­ liance upon armed squads and military personnel was even m ore pronounced than in previous procurement campaigns, which had themselves been “milita­ rized” as part o f an effort to centralize the affairs o f local government and, in par­ ticular, those o f the Food Commissariat.27 But, as commissariat officials in the uezds com plained in O ctober and November 1920, the continued disruptions caused by the remaining rebel groups active in the countryside made any system­ atic conduct o f procurement duties impossible. Requisition squads were regularly being recalled to the towns and large villages in response to warnings o f a rebel at­ tack, and requests by local representatives o f the Food Commissariat for soldiers to be assigned to the requisition campaign were regularly ignored or refused by local m ilitary officials. W hile many o f these attacks never materialized, particularly when the uezd towns were reportedly under threat, they intensified the continued nervousness o f local officials outside the provincial capital and were one more manifestation o f the tensions that characterized relations between the organs o f the Food Com missariat and those o f local adm inistration in grain-producing provinces such as Tambov.28The net effect was to undermine Aplok’s earlier com ­ m itm ent to bolstering the food procurem ent cam paign with regular m ilitary forces not required for antibanditry operations. In addition, the demands o f the requisition campaign, as well as security in uezd towns and at strategic points in the countryside, further undermined the confidence o f military and civilian au­ thorities in the manpower resources at their disposal.29 The food commissar in Tambov, Shugol’, employed the same bullying tactics perfected by his immediate predecessor in the provincial administration, Gol’din, to press uezd-level administrators to accept the circumstances and get on with the task o f grain procurement. His words to his colleague in the Food Commissariat in Borisoglebsk, who had complained o f difficulties in getting other uezd officials to shift their focus to the requisition campaign, are typical:

W hat I am saying, and you can explain this to the uezd executive com m ittee, the uezd party organization, and any other authorities in [Borisoglebsk], is that you are the food dictator for the entire uezd, and the razverstka m ust be fulfilled. The A ntonovist, kulak element in Borisoglebsk should feel your power. D em and o f the others in the uezd adm inistration, on the basis o f this, that they must give you their

The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov



Despite the intentions o f the m ilitary and civilian officials in the provincial capital, the requisition campaign remained a dead issue for as long as the bandits were allowed to operate in the countryside. W hat authority the Soviet govern­ ment enjoyed was being daily compromised and challenged by the menacing pres­ ence o f armed opponents. Food Commissariat officials in the uezds reported that the production o f moonshine (samogon) had made a dramatic return during the weeks when the requisition squads were unable to operate freely. The consump­ tion o f available cereals, vegetables, and meat was on the rise, as households re­ sponded to the troubled material conditions and heightened insecurity with partial abandon. And, o f course, the rebels were playing their own part, conducting their own requisitions o f supplies in the villages they occupied.31 The results as reported for the end o f October spoke for themselves. Despite the intentions o f provincial officials to shift the focus back to the procurement campaign, the rates o f collec­ tion were woeful for the uezds most affected by the violence. The targets for the procurement o f cereals in Kirsanov, Borisoglebsk, and Tambov were 16.4-23.3 per­ cent completed, and local officials contested even these low figures. In Borisoglebsk, they claimed that m any districts had contributed virtually nothing to the pro­ curement campaign; collections in Zapalotovsk volost were a meager 19 pood from a target amount o f over 25,000 to have been collected by November.32 Collection rates were much better the further north one traveled from the epi­ center o f the violence. This was not only a product o f fewer disruptions in the countryside. It was also the result o f a conscious decision by Food Commissariat officials to concentrate their efforts in the center and north o f the province to make up for shortfalls in collection suffered in the southern portion o f Tambov. Spassk and Shatsk uezds were the worst, with collection far exceeding the allo­ cated targets for those territories by November 1920.33 The exploitation o f the farming peasantry in these areas predictably antagonized local officials, who feared that the long-term consequence would be widespread hunger, with the short-term consequences o f political instability and a possible northward spread o f the in­ surgency.34 The specter o f the rebellion intensifying and engrossing new territo­ ries on account o f the short-sighted actions o f provincial Food Com missariat officials narrowly pursuing the achievement o f procurement targets was one that critics o f the policy o f razverstka had raised since the beginning o f the violence in the southern half o f the province.35 Such concerns only intensified as the disturbances continued in the final months o f 1920. Despite the efforts o f the Food Commissariat to prom pt their subordi­


The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov

nates in the uezds to pursue requisitions in a decisive manner, the atmosphere in these localities only grew more despondent, as those in the soviet administrations at the heart o f the insurgency felt powerless to effect any constructive change in the strategic situation. The secretary o f the provincial soviet executive committee, Meshcheriakov, having reviewed the political situation in Kirsanov in late O cto­ ber, strongly criticized the Food Commissariat for the unreasonable pressure it tried to exercise upon the beleaguered uezd administration: I cannot continue [my report] w ithout raising the extrem ely rude behavior o f the provincial Food Com m issar [ShugoF], w ho is fully aware that it is im possible to conduct a procurem ent cam paign w hen there are no available requisition units. He clearly knows that m ilitary units have no obligation to obey the orders o f an uezd food commissar, but he nevertheless demands, and in the m ost decisive terms imaginable, that the razverstka be fulfilled at any cost. Strict and direct orders are issued [to individuals in the localities] to go and take grain with your bare hands in the m idst o f a bandit uprising. (I am enclosing copies o f these telegrams.) The provincial food com m issar is literally ordering the uezds: “ D on't talk, don't argue, don’t offer m e excuses— just get the grain.”36

Yet the pressure being exerted upon provincial officials from Moscow, particu­ larly those in the Food Commissariat, was likewise severe and uncompromising, affecting their own relations with local officials.37 The issue o f suppressing the in­ surgency in Tambov remained inextricably linked in the minds o f central gov­ ernm ent authorities in M oscow to that o f the food crisis facing the Soviet Republic.

ANOTHER FALSE SUPPRESSION: OCTOBER 1920 Provincial officials would later deny, in the face o f criticism from central authorities at the close o f 1920, that they had diverted actual armed forces from the antiban­ ditry campaign in October and November to concentrate efforts on the procure­ ment o f grain. Aplok’s eventual replacement as overall commander in the province (from late October 1920), K. V. Redz'ko, reported to the provincial M ilitary C oun­ cil that he had considered on more than one occasion reassigning available m ili­ tary forces to supplement the armed squads working under the control o f the Food Commissariat, but he felt that these would be o f little practical utility for the req­ uisition campaign, and so never took the decision.38 From the perspective o f offi­ cials in provinces bordering the area o f the insurgency in Tambov, the situation in

The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov


October and November was indicative o f either the incompetence o f authorities in Tambov or the inexplicable restraints placed upon the antibanditry effort by Moscow. The heavy blows suffered by the rebels in Tambov in late September 1920 had relieved the situation somewhat, with the main rebel groups no longer pre­ senting a significant problem for military authorities in early October. However, their relief was gained at the cost o f severe disruptions suffered by officials in the neighboring provinces o f Saratov and Penza. In the first week o f October, officials in Serdobsk uezd, Saratov Province, re­ ported that armed rebels from Tambov had occupied the village o f Makarovo, killing soviet and M ilitary Commissariat personnel while also taking possession o f soviet property, such as official document stamps.39 At the same time, to the north in Penza Province, M ilitary Commissariat and Cheka officials in Chem bar’ uezd reported the appearance o f rebels close to the border with Tambov.40 The numbers reported were at first unimpressive, but as more details emerged, the es­ timates increased to indicate that the rebellion that had afflicted provincial au­ thorities in Tambov in August and September had been far from liquidated and had instead crossed provincial borders. Cheka and M ilitary Commissariat offi­ cials in Saratov quickly established their own headquarters in Rtishchevo, the large railway station on the line connecting the provincial capitals o f Saratov and Tam­ bov, and they mobilized armed forces for assignment to the affected regions o f the uezd. Likewise in Chembar’, Penza authorities worked to clarify the situation along their borders and to mobilize two armed Cheka battalions to force the rebels back over the border into Tambov. But complications prevented these initial ac­ tions from producing any decisive effect. In Saratov, state farms, some o f which were principally staffed by refugees from the “ hungry” cities o f Petrograd and M oscow (as they were regularly identified in contem porary publications), found themselves largely defenseless as rebels crossed over into the bordering uezds o f Serdobsk and then Balashov. In some cases they began to empty the farms o f all livestock and agricultural implements, distributing them to nearby village com ­ munities in the hope that they would be kept safe from rebel looting.41 W hile provincial authorities feared that the incursion into Saratov territory would usher in a damaging period o f elemental violence against state targets and village communities alike, information received soon after the appearance o f in­ surgents from Tambov suggested that a far more elaborate conspiracy and or­ ganization was at work. A rebel scout, captured in the first days o f the incursion, informed Cheka officials in Saratov during interrogations that the groundwork had been laid long in advance for rebel activities across the border in Balashov and Serdobsk. The conspiracy that had been organized by Antonov and his men


The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov

incorporated dozens o f contacts in neighboring provinces, including Saratov, and they had every intention o f establishing their insurgency in a wider region en­ compassing parts o f Voronezh and Penza.42There was strong evidence o f the loot­ ing o f state farms and violence against soviet and Com m unist Party personnel, and the rebels had reportedly accumulated a vast amount o f stolen property re­ flected in the number o f carts they kept in tow, carrying out their activities with a measure o f organization that worked to cultivate their popular appeal. The same show trials o f state and party personnel that had been among the features o f their activities in Tambov Province were reproduced in the villages o f Saratov, but in a way that only suggested more elaborate intentions. Few native villagers joined the rebels during their incursion into the province, and beyond the sloganeering and familiar calls for com munities to rise up against the state, the presence o f the Tambov rebels in Saratov bore the hallmarks o f a military raid rather than attempted occupation.43 In Penza, a Cheka official closest to the area most affected by the appearance o f the Tambov rebels, Karpov, reported to his superiors that their actions had done little to dislodge the rebels from the region: Requisitions and all soviet w o rk [in C h em bar’ uezd] have com e to a com plete standstill. The situation confronting the Chem bar’ soviet executive com m ittee is sim ply idiotic. The citizens are themselves begging for protection from the bandits, and they are blam ing Soviet power for its failure to do so__ A nton ov has resided in the territory o f Chem bar’ uezd for two days, robbing the peasants, and no one has lifted a finger against h i m . . . . T he arm ed forces in Tam bov, Kirsanov, and Saratov do absolutely nothing, and this is just playing into A nton ov’s hands. T hey could be closing in on him now, as A n to n o v and his cavalry, w ith their huge collection o f carts filled w ith goods, are just sitting there.44

Officials in Penza expressed their dismay at the incompetence o f provincial au­ thorities in Tambov, but they, like their counterparts in Saratov, were more criti­ cal o f the formal circumstances that inhibited their own ability to deal decisively with the incursion.45 Stationing available forces in the larger villages along the border, m ilitary and Cheka commanders on the ground grew increasingly frus­ trated with their superiors in the uezd town o f Chem bar’ and in Penza itself. Rather than rely upon the initiative o f local commanders, those who assumed control over operations demanded that any troop movements be the result o f for­ mal orders from provincial headquarters. Likewise, there was com m on frustra­ tion because forces in Penza had no authority to cross over into Tambov or Saratov

The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov


in pursuit o f armed rebel groups.46W hile they sought to contain the spread o f the insurgency into their territories, they felt they could do nothing to contribute to a concerted effort to eliminate the rebels as a source o f instability in the wider re­ gion. There had been virtually no contact among the respective authorities in the four provinces now affected by the insurgency originating in Tambov, and while there were several reasons for this state o f affairs, the lack o f central guidance was the m ost glaring. The Cheka commander, Karpov, was once again a strong spokesman for this shared sense o f frustration after his m ilitary forces had en­ dured nearly a m onth o f disturbances along the border with Tambov: I believe that if A n ton ov once again appears on the borders separating Tambov, Saratov, and Penza provinces, and w e do n ot w ant to fail again on account o f co ­ ordination problem s, then w e should establish a single center [o f com m and] to control all armed groups operating in Tambov, Saratov, and Penza, providing clearly defined objectives for each group and m aintaining close com m unications w ith each while granting individual group com m anders a measure o f autonomy, such that if the enem y appears in his region, he w ill be able to m ove his forces from one village to the next as he requires, crossing borders if need be, and m aintaining constant contact w ith the com m and center, w hich w ould be located near the heart o f the action, and n ot in som e office located in Simbirsk, Penza, or som e other tow n a hundred versts away, trying to follow the m ovem ents o f the partisan bands on a m ap as if there were an unbroken front line that could be discerned.47

W ith Soviet government forces in the region unable to achieve a sufficient degree o f coordination, circumstances played into the hands o f the rebels.48 W hile offi­ cials in Saratov were able to mobilize enough trained soldiers and Com m unist Party volunteers to force the insurgents from the Serdobsk region and then, even­ tually, from Balashov uezd, their efforts to warn authorities in Voronezh o f the rebels’ intentions to travel to the Novokhoper region in the north o f that province only met with silence.49Voronezh officials had already had difficulty maintaining order in that area, and their apparent indifference to reports o f over 2,000 Tam­ bov rebels heading for the forests o f Novokhoper provoked disbelief in neigh­ boring Saratov.

SOVIET ABTIORITY UNRAVELS W hile authorities in Penza had to contend with continuing problems along the


The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov

border with Tambov, in the form o f armed rebels as well as unarmed groups o f vil­ lagers exploiting the compromised security situation to plunder timber resources, their neighbors in Saratov had faced a much more coherent force o f rebels from Tambov and had managed to deal with them in the first two weeks o f October.50 Returning to Tambov via Borisoglebsk uezd, the rebels— quite probably includ­ ing Antonov him self— arrived with renewed intent to continue the campaign o f violence against the Soviet regime in the province. The return o f the rebels be­ trayed any declarations by provincial officials and Internal Security Service (Voiska vnutrennei sluzhby, or VNUS, which subsumed VOKhR) commanders that the in­ surgency had been suppressed and that Soviet authority in the Tambov country­ side was being restored. In the second half o f October, the uezd officials in Tambov admitted defeat in their effort to reconstitute the system o f soviet administration and opted to concentrate administrative functions in five regional committees. Recognizing that the system o f local administration in the uezd had not been par­ ticularly strong even before the outbreak o f violence in the autumn, Tambov uezd officials now reported that the rebels had managed to dismantle the soviet ad­ ministration and Communist Party cells in forty-one o f the fifty-six districts in the uezd. “On account o f the cruelties committed by the bands against Communists and soviet personnel,” they explained, “as well as the destruction o f the entire ap­ paratus o f the volost soviet executives, including the destruction o f documents, printing facilities, archives, and so on, the situation with the soviet executives is now completely catastrophic.”51 W hen the rebels successfully launched a brief raid on the manufacturing cen­ ter Rasskavozo, only a few kilometers from the provincial capital, and managed to inflict significant damage on a number o f the medium-scale enterprises there, the news grabbed the attention o f Lenin, who angrily demanded that Kornev, head o f the VN U S, be formally reprimanded for the evident failure to establish control over the situation in the province. Kornev’s reply in early November touched upon many o f the themes that would become familiar over the following weeks, as the search for an effective solution in Tambov gave way to finger pointing and re­ criminations. Kornev explained that there had been a noticeable shift in the char­ acter o f the conflict in Tambov and that the activities o f the rebels were growing more conventional in terms o f organization. They nevertheless operated with lim ­ ited objectives and avoided direct confrontations with government troops. Ko­ rnev explained that in the final days o f October, the forces in Tam bov had managed to deal successive blows to the larger rebel groups, and for this reason, he assured Lenin, “ in the broadest sense, the rebellion can be considered sup­ pressed.” The remaining task for government forces involved the final stage o f

The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov


“liquidation,” rounding up known participants in the insurgency at the village level and “isolating the criminal element” from the wider peasant population. For this purpose, and also to safeguard against the rebellion flaring up once more, Ko­ rnev explained that he had ordered significant troop reinforcements, involving a full battalion and two motorized squadrons. The figures he provided in his report further reinforced his claim that the situation was under control: 3,000 insurgents killed (and a mere 300 wounded), 1,000 insurgents taken prisoner, and vast amounts o f weapons, ammunition, and supplies, including a military field kitchen and tele­ phone apparatus, seized. Losses for the government had been modest, with just 90 men killed and less than 200 wounded.52 Kornev’s assessment o f the actions o f his own V N U S forces and commanders, and o f the wider situation in Tambov, was almost immediately challenged by de­ velopments on the ground. On the day Kornev sent his report, armed rebels once again attacked the railway station at Inzhavino, where government troops failed to offer any resistance. Then, on 5 November, a coordinated action by armed rebels, involving two separate groups attacking from the north and south, occupied the important railway station at Sampur in Tambov uezd. Overwhelming the small local garrison at Sampur were between 2,000 and 6,000 insurgents (estimates vary), mostly on horseback, and possessing a small number o f machine guns and at least one light artillery gun, in addition to rifles and revolvers carried by individuals.53 It was the largest organized mass o f insurgent forces to date, but the occupation o f Sampur was short-lived. Having failed to sabotage the railroad on the north­ ern approach, the rebels were soon met by artillery and machine gun fire from government forces on armored railroad cars arriving from the provincial capital. The resistance mounted by the insurgents was minimal, and their flight from Sam­ pur was rapid. It was another important victory for Soviet troops and a debilitat­ ing defeat for the rebels, if governm ent reports are to be believed, but also a reminder that the rebellion as an organized phenomenon was far from over. The search for solutions to the escalating problem o f the insurgency was grow­ ing more desperate, and that desperation was nowhere stronger than in the uezd towns, where the sense o f vulnerability was most pronounced. The only troops considered even remotely effective in countering the rebels were those at the dis­ posal o f the central com mand in Tambov, and uezd officials continued to rely upon reservists, requisition squad workers, and temporarily mobilized Com m u­ nist Party members to defend the towns and strategic points in their territories. As the secretary o f the Tambov executive committee reported following an in­ spection tour o f Kirsanov uezd in early November: “Bands now cover practically the entire uezd. Soviet authority has ceased to exist. One ventures five kilometers

io 6

The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov

outside o f the town o f Kirsanov, and state authority is already absent.” The au­ thor o f the report, Meshcheriakov, noted that the conduct o f Red A rm y troops under the com mand o f Tambov was contributing to this situation rather than correcting it, highlighting their “disgraceful conduct” as the most “fundamental evil,” antagonizing the local population in the villages with uncontrolled looting and often random acts o f violence that were pushing average villagers closer to open support o f the rebels.54 But he did not spare local officials, who had them ­ selves abandoned any control over the situation from their secured base in the uezd center. “All the basics,” Meshcheriakov wrote o f the recently formed M ilitary Council in Kirsanov, “such as communications, scouting reports, profiles o f the rebels, are completely lacking. The M ilitary Soviet is completely in the dark about what is happening in the countryside and is therefore serving no purpose what­ soever.” 55 A basic problem facing the local administrations as they confronted the de­ generating situation in the territory was the loss o f control over the armed forces at their disposal. Government units stationed outside the uezd towns were in­ creasingly abandoning their posts without a fight when confronted by groups o f armed rebels, and desertion was on the rise from the garrisons located in the towns and major villages. Whereas the anticipated rate o f desertion from reserve units for October and November was a minimal 1-2 percent, the recent worsening o f the political situation in the south o f the province had seen the rate o f desertion in­ crease sixfold at the main garrison in Tambov. Similar increases were noted in other garrisons throughout the province, not only in the area most affected by the instability.56M ilitary Commissariat officials in Kirsanov, recognizing the problem with desertion and the fact that men who had already been considered deserters formed the core o f support for the rebels, had been calling since m id-October for the provincial administration to send reliable cavalry troops to the uezd to round up deserters in the villages before they fell in with the insurgency. The most they could muster for such a task, given their resources at the time o f writing— early November 1920— was fifty men (without horses), a force that was too small and vulnerable, given the circumstances, and one that could be sent out only at the expense o f security in the main garrison in Kirsanov town. At every instance when a request for such troops was made, commissariat officials in Kirsanov either re­ ceived a negative reply, they claimed, or no reply at all.57 Yet senior military commanders openly recognized that the struggle with de­ sertion was central to the counterinsurgency campaign, for removing the desert­ ers in the villages would deprive the rebels o f active recruits.58 The connection between deserters and insurgents was more practical than political; such young

The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov


men were not necessarily opponents o f the regime, but being able-bodied and available, they were the logical targets o f rebel overtures for support, either vol­ untary or coerced. As the countryside was abandoned to the rebels in the final months o f 1920, such overtures grew increasingly difficult to resist. Provincial au­ thorities attempted to provide an outlet for those young men not naturally drawn to the insurgency, declaring (in accordance w ith VTsIK instructions from Moscow) a one-week amnesty for deserters in November. The amnesty was ex­ tended by two weeks when the results proved disappointing. At the conclusion o f the amnesty, the m ilitary commissar in Tambov, Shikunov, reported what virtu­ ally everyone else already knew: that it was pointless to expect results when the principal areas targeted by the amnesty were effectively outside government con­ trol.59 The desertion problem in the uezd towns was certainly connected with the de­ generating political situation in the countryside, but it was also a product o f the worsening material conditions that affected the garrison and town populations alike. W ith the rebels growing more systematic in their attacks and acts o f sabo­ tage, the uezd towns found themselves partially cut o ff from their sources o f sup­ ply. With railroad traffic falling to a minimum throughout the area, and in and out o f the towns in particular, the problem o f desertion from the garrisons was in­ creasingly difficult to contain. In Borisoglebsk, the food supply crisis by early December 1920 had forced local officials to try to illegally commandeer shipments o f grain from across the border in Saratov Province in an effort to alleviate the sit­ uation.60 In Kirsanov, where food procurement had come to a standstill, desper­ ation quickly turned to anger among provincial and central officials alike.61 As the same M ilitary Commissariat officials made clear in yet another report filed to­ ward the end o f the year, local uezd authorities felt that they were effectively under siege, a situation their superiors seemed not to appreciate: It seems clear that the military forces in Kirsanov have been left to fend for themselves and that the provincial authorities are not w illing to pay any serious attention to their plight. We do not have any active arm ed forces in Kirsanov, and w e have no stockpiles o f weapons. The railroad could today be repaired, but tom orrow it w ould only be severed once again; yet both Tam bov and [m ilitary com m anders in] Orel appear to believe that everything is going just fine for us [in Kirsanov].

O nly a token num ber o f forces that had been sent to reinforce local units, ac­ cording to the commissariat officials in Kirsanov, and those reinforcements had been wholly unsuited to active participation in either antidesertion work or coun­ terinsurgency operations. W hile these “barefoot Red Arm y soldiers” sent by com ­


The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov

manders in Tambov could be assigned to railway stations or villages in the Kir­ sanov countryside, they explained, there were no guarantees that those same posts would not be guarded the next day by Antonov’s men instead. Lamenting the fact that over 600 o f “our best comrades” had perished already at the hands o f the in­ surgents in Kirsanov, commissariat officials pointedly questioned whether such a state o f affairs was sustainable. “No, comrades,” they wrote, “we cannot go on liv­ ing like this, and further victims will not serve to strengthen our revolution but will only weaken our defences further.”62

THE PARTISAN ARMY OF THE TAMBOV RE6I0N An appraisal o f the situation in Tambov Province by Cheka officials in Moscow on the basis o f agent reports and available assessments at the end o f November, began with the following description: Dissatisfied w ith Soviet policy concerning the countryside, incited b y the seditious agitation conducted by whiteguardists, assorted dark figures, agents o f the Entente, as well as incited by the underground w ork o f the right SRs, and encouraged by the recent successes o f Baron Wrangel [on the Crim ean peninsula], the strong kulak popu lation o f this region has joined w ith the deserters to form the core o f the A ntonovist bands. Draw n to them have been various elements from am ong the W hite officers, arriving from the D on, Kuban, Ukraine, and elsewhere.63

The portrait o f a deepening crisis, significantly fueled by the involvement o f a va­ riety o f outside conspirators and agents o f counterrevolution, remained a fixed idea in the assessments o f central and provincial authorities alike. While there were elements o f popular support, in the villages o f southern Tambov support came from expected quarters, from among the kulaks and deserters whose participation could have been expected from the very start o f the violence in the province. The growth o f the Tambov insurgency was best understood in terms that elaborated the conspiratorial qualities that gave rise to the conflict in the first instance, draw­ ing participation from outside the province and forging further links with known anti-Soviet elements representing a variety o f interests and designs. The rapid dismantling o f local administration in the territory o f the insur­ gency in the first two months o f the conflict had not produced any noticeable changes in the organization o f the insurgency or in the quality o f its activities. The swift movement o f identifiable rebel groups, led by known individuals with a long-standing record o f opposition to the Soviet state in Tam bov (such as

The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov


Antonov, Boguslavskii, and Tokmakov) remained the source o f defiance and pre­ vented the Soviet government from reestablishing a foothold in the countryside that would allow its Com munist Party members and soviet personnel, as well as requisition squads, to return to work. The entry o f an armed rebel group into a given locality was the occasion for grand speech making and gun toting that bol­ stered the image o f strength and viability needed to promote a spirit o f defiance, but when those same rebels left, there was little in the way o f local organization to take the place o f the deposed soviet administration. Calls for local men to organize their own rebel groups to continue the acts o f sabotage and ambush so as to prevent a return o f Soviet rule in the area had an effect, but there was an improvised quality to these overtures in the first months o f the conflict indicating that very little guidance or organization connected these local bands— who often had to arm themselves— to the established rebel groups moving between villages and districts under pursuit by government forces. Despite the fact that officials in the uezd administrations reported a complete loss o f con­ trol over significant portions o f their territory, there were few signs that the rebels’ growing confidence was translating into popular authority in those same territo­ ries, creating the impression among government officials that the rebellion would soon exhaust itself. Cheka officials expressed their belief that the enthusiasm for the rebellion fluctuated with the weather and that support for the insurgents would melt away as the winter snows began to accumulate in December.64 The attack on Sampur, however, had confirmed that the individual groups o f rebels were capable o f coordinating their activities and that their growing con­ fidence conveyed a corresponding ambition for greater organization. A network o f contacts remained in the countryside and had been expanded in the previous weeks o f feverish activity, although to what extent remained obscure to govern­ ment officials, who had initially believed that they had dismantled the conspira­ torial network put in place before the outbreak o f the violence in the province. There were worrying reports that numerous Com munist Party members and so­ viet personnel, caught in the violence in the countryside, were actually joining the rebels, welcomed into the ranks o f the insurgents rather than killed outright, like so many o f their comrades.65 Such developments were considered problems o f discipline and resolve, and it was especially a problem with armed government troops stationed in the major villages and railway stations in the countryside. As with the reports concerning party and soviet personnel, it was becoming increas­ ingly clear to government officials in Tambov that the rebels were not exclusively attacking and slaughtering government troops in acts o f demonstrative vengeance, or rasprava; they were effectively taking prisoners and enlisting the participation


The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov

o f the young men they vanquished in raids and ambushes.66 According to the operational diary kept by military headquarters in Tambov, 14 November was a distinctly quiet day, with no major engagements or attacks to report.67 O nly two weeks before, Kornev had reported to Lenin his conviction that the defeats suffered by the main rebels groups in late October had splintered the insurgency to such an extent that its final suppression was near. However, 14 N o­ vember stands out as a watershed in the history o f the Tambov conflict, the m o­ ment when the rebels led by Antonov, Tokmakov, and others sought to forge an organizational structure that would sustain the insurgency for months to come. That a meeting was arranged at all indicated that a substantial level o f organiza­ tion and competence already existed. Nevertheless, the outcomes o f the meeting o f rebel leaders in the village o f Moiseeva-Alabushki in Borisoglebsk uezd on 14 N o­ vember had independent significance. The actual discussion at this meeting in northern Borisoglebsk, not far from the original epicenter o f the rebellion, remains obscure, and what is known about the proceedings is derived only from Soviet government and Red Arm y intelligence re­ ports. Apparently the principal outcome, though, was the creation o f a unified structure for the rebel groups that had been active for the previous months in Tambov. While identifiable groups o f rebels had already attained a measure o f sta­ bility in their ranks, several smaller groups o f armed men needed to be either for­ mally integrated into the organization or, perhaps more important, excluded from the ranks o f the rebels led by Antonov et al. on account o f their activities, if they were considered contrary (or detrimental) to the objectives o f those leaders. Initially, four armed “regiments” were recognized, each eventually bearing a designation drawn from its main base o f operations, and from which the major­ ity o f its participants were drawn. For instance, the Third Borisoglebsk Regiment would be composed o f individuals drawn from the area where the group had ini­ tially formed. The overall commander o f the rebel regiments was recognized as Petr Tokmakov, an individual with some practical m ilitary experience under the old regime, but most significantly a long-standing and trusted friend o f Aleksandr Antonov. Antonov himself would be the overall leader o f the insurgency, the com ­ mander o f its “headquarters,” which would travel with him through the country­ side and be accompanied by its own armed guard. The earliest available document produced by the insurgents regarding this new structure is dated one m onth later (16 December), and the name given to the rebel military force is the Armed M ili­ tia o f the Tambov Region (Boevaia Druzhina Tambovskoi Kraia).68This was, how­ ever, only a transitional name, indicative o f the rebels’ own cognitive adjustment

The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov


to the task o f expanding and sustaining their movement as it moved from its un­ derground origins to its above-ground ambitions. The insurgents soon adopted the more impressive title, the Partisan Arm y o f the Tambov Region. The Partisan Arm y set up a hierarchy o f com mand through which orders and operational plans could flow. Presenting a unified organizational front marked a constructive step in the effort to cultivate legitimacy and authority in the country­ side, and central to that objective would be to instill discipline within its recently formalized ranks. Alm ost immediately, independent-minded rebels challenged the discipline that lay at the core o f the project to form a unified army. Soviet au­ thorities learned o f the organization o f the Partisan Arm y in Moiseeva-Alabushki through reports o f a schism in the ranks whereby a certain Kazankov and his group o f armed rebels refused to subm it to the authority o f A ntonov and the newly formed Partisan Arm y command. Whatever the source o f the disagreement— per­ sonal ambition, “principled” objection to the organization o f the new army, or something else— the development was a serious one for the rebel leaders. Kazankov and his men hailed from the Kamenka region, at the heart o f the rebellion’s terri­ tory, and the presence o f a rogue insurgent leader in such a location was under­ standably intolerable to Antonov, Tokmakov, et al. An ultimatum was issued by the Partisan Arm y leaders, one eventually backed with a call to disarm the rogue unit and to hunt down and even kill Kazankov if he refused to submit to the author­ ity o f the Partisan Army.69 Having received word o f this disagreement, Soviet officials quickly recognized an opportunity. Sustaining or deepening the schism could fatally break the back o f the insurgency just as it appeared to be consolidating its authority. The senior Cheka officials in the sector drafted and, by all indications, delivered an appeal to Kazankov, “the rebel fighting against the Soviet workers’ and peasants’ republic.” Given the tone o f the document and the heavily loaded language used, the appeal appears to be intended more for the eyes o f the wider public than for the rebel Kazankov and his men. Although the principal aim o f the document is to entice Kazankov and his men to “come over to the side o f the Soviet government, which will receive you as a repentant son and guarantee the lives o f you and your men,” every opportunity is taken to belittle the insurgency and emphasize the strength o f the Soviet state and its counterinsurgency effort. Although the appeal makes sensible observations regarding the difficult situation that must have confronted Kazankov and his men, who were now a target for not one, but two warring par­ ties, little or no effort is made to entice Kazankov beyond assurances that he and his men would not be punished by Soviet authorities if they surrendered: “Any­


The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov

one who does not repent o f his crimes and who fails to appreciate that he is com ­ m itting dark deeds that only serve the interests o f the West, for such people there will be no mercy shown, and the repressive arm o f the Extraordinary Commission [Cheka] will come down on the head o f the guilty with all its force.”70 Such lan­ guage was understandable in that it underscored the limited options available to individuals such as Kazankov, but it hardly represented a positive enticement, re­ vealing that Cheka officials appreciated the possible propaganda value o f an open act o f “repentance.” Instead, the “appeal” to Kazankov appears to have been drafted under the influence o f an overarching insecurity, with Soviet officials needing to proclaim once more the fortitude and capability o f the Soviet state in contrast to the hopeless struggle o f the bandits. Despite the concluding words about respect­ ing the safety o f the envoy delivering the document, this private communication bears all the hallmarks o f a public declaration. It is almost as if the Soviet authorities in Tambov did not expect Kazankov and his men to surrender and that the only propaganda benefit they felt could be har­ vested would come from this open appeal. Whatever their intentions, the brief crisis within the ranks o f the rebel movement was soon resolved, with Kazankov and his men returning to the fold o f the Partisan Army, not to the forces o f the “ Red republic.” Three basic possibilities bear brief consideration here. One is that the Soviet promises o f amnesty were not considered genuine by the rebels and therefore did not represent a realistic option. A second is that the rebels collectively felt that the threat from the Partisan Arm y was more substantial and therefore submitted to its authority rather than suffer the consequences. A final considera­ tion is that the rogue group led by Kazankov may have reevaluated their decision in light o f principle and joined the cause o f the rebellion as closest to their own true sympathies. If any one o f these explanations is correct, the overall implica­ tions for the Soviet government in Tambov were not positive. It is impossible to determine whether the Soviet appeal to Kazankov had any substantive bearing on the ultimate decision, but there were no apparent reprisals visited upon Kazankov and his men for their initial refusal to submit to the authority o f the Partisan Arm y leadership; Kazankov’s unit was integrated into the structure o f the army, and Kazankov him self retained com mand o f the “ Kamenka” regiment until his ap­ parent death in battle in January 1921.71

RICMMINATIONS AND INVESTIGATIONS Judging by parallel developments, however, the Kazankov episode did not dom i­

The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov


nate the period immediately following the organization o f the Partisan Army. Attacks by rebel units on governm ent targets continued in the second h alf o f November, and the resolve displayed by Red Arm y troops in these episodes ap­ peared to commanders to be diminishing. A n unbroken series o f capitulations finally culminated in the second week o f December, when a Red Arm y garrison numbering over 400 men abandoned their posts in the village and railway station o f Inzhavino in Kirsanov uezd after the appearance o f a smaller group o f armed and m ounted rebel fighters. The events provoked an angry assessment by a local military commander: On the night of 13 December in Inzhavino there took place a bandit attack. The Inzhavino garrison, numbering 433 armed men with two machine guns, not only failed to offer resistance, but shamefully took flight, abandoning their machine guns and tossing their rifles and ammunition behind them in the street. There were no other mitigating circumstances to explain this cowardice. Well clothed, very well armed, and well fed, these soldiers nonetheless fell into a panic and fled when confronted by a gang of bandits. We know now what sort of discipline there was at the Inzhavino garrison, when Red Army soldiers run away like a frightened flock of sheep and trained machine gunners abandon their weapons. I have no need for such men who only carry the Red Army name and do not want to fight, those who take the first available opportunity to run away and indirectly supply the bandits with arms and ammunition.72 Several o f the men who had abandoned their posts in Inzhavino were sentenced to death by a military tribunal the next day. But this was only the most spectacu­ lar such incident involving Red Arm y forces, as the continuation o f the insurgency drained what resolve had existed among rank-and-file government troops as the year drew to a close. The problem with discipline and the general quality o f available troops fea­ tured prominently in the report issued by the overall commander in Tambov sent to the provincial m ilitary council on 14 Decem ber 1920. Konstantin Redz’ko lamented the fact that the reinforcements that had arrived in the province since he assumed the post in late October had been uniform ly substandard, requiring extensive reorganization and training for those who were not simply returned to their previous assignments outside the province. For all the thousands o f soldiers available on paper for work in counterinsurgency operations, Redz’ko estimated that he had only 1,200 fit and capable (prigodnye) troops at his disposal. O nly half o f these were mounted troops, and the area o f operations spanned nearly 20,000


The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov

square kilometers. According to the Red Arm y commander, the number o f rebel fighters active in this same area could be estimated at 18,000, with 5,000-7,000 possessing their own firearms. The rebels held the balance o f power in the south­ ern half o f the province, and incidents such as those at Inzhavino only served to strengthen the authority they enjoyed in the eyes o f the wider population.73 Sim­ ply deploying m ore government troops, regardless o f their reliability and pre­ paredness, would be “like pouring grease onto the fire,” in Redz’ko’s words, and promote the standing o f Antonov and the rebels in the countryside. According to Redz’ko, even the occasional defeats the government forces had been able to infl­ ict had done little to diminish Antonov’s popular authority. “ They believe him,” reported Redz’ko, a simple insight that made the (admittedly meager) propaganda efforts o f the government fruitless as long as the strategic situation was so unfa­ vorable.74 Maintaining that the problem regarding the quality o f troops available for the counterinsurgency effort was well established and known to m ilitary and gov­ ernment officials concerned with the conflict, Redz’ko bemoaned the failure o f central officials in Moscow to act so as to change the situation on the ground for the better. In particular, he held the commanders in the Internal Security Service (VNUS) principally responsible:

It is agonizing to recognize that the officials in VNUS have yet to establish a clear view on this question [of inadequate forces deployed in Tambov]. It is even difficult in light of the fact that in two and half or three months we will have the thaw of the spring season, a time when military operations will, whether we desire it or not, cease, and if we do not liquidate the rebellion entirely, at its roots, before that time, then we are going to have a major conflagration on our hands, one whose flames could link up with other fires in neighboring provinces, consuming and destroying all the hard work and progress [the revolution has] made in the recent past.75

Redz’ko’s words appear to be a dose o f realism designed to force the provincial and central government to confront the rapidly degenerating situation in Tambov. But his report, written for the Tambov m ilitary council, harm onized with the tenor o f provincial reports and correspondence directed to M oscow regarding the insurgency. In September and October, the provincial authorities had regularly sought to assure officials in M oscow that the situation in Tambov was under control and that the insurgency did not, and could not, enjoy popular support. However, the

The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov


renewal o f the conflict with the return o f the large insurgent groups from Saratov, Penza, and Voronezh in November saw those reassurances transformed into ac­ cusations. O n two occasions, the commander o f VN US, Kornev, had visited Tam­ bov with his assistants to assess the situation, and both times he had come away convinced that the provincial military officials had sufficient forces to deal with the insurgents. Dealing with a manpower shortage that generally affected Soviet forces in 1920 owing to the Polish campaign and the final clashes with the W hites in Crim ea, in addition to other rural disturbances in provinces o f Soviet Russia, Kornev had only been able to supply reinforcements to Tambov that were clearly not prepared to combat the insurgency. His actions in this regard, combined with his own criticism o f provincial m ilitary and civilian officials in mishandling the campaign against Antonov, signified for local authorities an incompetence and a dangerously dismissive attitude toward the situation in Tambov. For provincial officials, Kornev was the man in M oscow most clearly to blame for the failure o f the counterinsurgency.76 Two days after Redz’ko’s report, the Presidium o f the provincial soviet added its own voice in blaming Kornev directly, passing a resolution that explained that he had “always demonstrated a clear in­ difference toward the concerns and demands made to the headquarters o f VN U S by the M ilitary Council and the Soviet Executive [in Tambov], concerns and de­ mands that were communicated in reports, by telegraph, and in person, as well as before every commission which was sent to Tambov by Comrade Kornev, some o f which he himself led.” They concluded their resolution with what was by this time a customary remark; that if substantial commitments were not made to improve the situation in the province, they would wash their hands o f any responsibility for the consequences.77 Redz’ko likened the dispirit that pervaded the provincial ad­ ministration at all levels to that o f August 1919, when the White cavalry o f Gen­ eral M am ontov swept through the province. This represented the previous low point for morale among local administrators and officials, who felt abandoned by m ilitary and civilian authorities in M oscow when confronted with an armed challenge. Redz’ko him self did not want to endure such a climate a second time; he and others had been sensationally placed on trial following the debacle o f A u­ gust 1919, and he understandably did not want a repeat o f that experience, even if he had been acquitted.78 Instead, Redz’ko requested to be relieved o f his com ­ mand, as he felt “powerless,” in his words, to im prove the situation in the province.79 Such a request by the head o f military forces in the province only reinforced the danger signals coming from Tambov. Continued setbacks at the hands o f rebels,


The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov

particularly at the village o f Inokovka in Kirsanov uezd, which was twice occupied by the Partisan Arm y in mid-December, prompted yet another delegation to be sent from Moscow to investigate the situation and to make strategic recommen­ dations. It was the fifth time in four months that central government investigators had visited Tambov to assess the troubles in the province. Arriving on 25 Decem­ ber 1920, the delegation officials from VN U S met for three days with provincial officials and m ilitary commanders and surveyed available correspondence and docum entation relating to the development o f the insurgency and the govern­ ment’s efforts to suppress it. O n 28 December, the day before completing their in­ vestigations, the officials were joined by Kornev, m aking his third visit to the provincial capital in the latter half o f the year. The reports produced at the end o f the month were notable for their vigorous defense o f the conduct o f officials in M oscow and VNUS. Yet they also drew commonsense conclusions that helped in­ vigorate the state’s subsequent efforts to control the situation in the province. The main report was the work o f Petr Andreevich Kameron, a senior investi­ gating official with VN U S.80 Kameron and his colleagues reviewed summary re­ ports prepared by members o f the M ilitary Council in Tambov and evaluated the origins and progress o f the conflict over the previous five months. M any o f the points made in the final report had been recognized much earlier by provincial officials. In particular, the report highlighted the antagonistic role played by the Food Commissariat and its agents in the countryside in arousing popular dis­ content in the grain-growing regions o f the province, particularly the com mis­ sariat’s pursuit o f collection targets without regard for local political stability or even the economic sustainability o f requisitioning. The report referred to the “ab­ normal character” o f the procurement targets in Tambov, although Tambov was far from alone among Soviet provinces suffering political instability as a conse­ quence o f the razverstka policy. But it was a judgment that did, in typical fashion, direct attention onto local officials and their conduct, rather than on the faults o f the policy tout court. The failure to realize other centrally directed policies ac­ cording to Moscow’s intentions— notably the overarching effort to court the mid­ dle and poor peasantry in an effort to weaken the irredeemable kulaks— was also counted among the faults o f provincial officials, but this failure too was not unique to Tambov. The main insights contained in Kameron’s report pertain to the course o f the insurgency itself. Regarding the provincial government’s efforts to suppress the violence, Kameron provided a broad characterization o f the local officials’ failure to appreciate the quality and potential o f the resistance led by Antonov and his armed supporters: “Regrettably, even up to the present time, local authorities have

The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov


failed to understand the character o f the movement, preferring to label it ‘ban­ ditry,5and even an authoritative governmental organ such as the provincial Cheka clung to such a characterization throughout August and September and, as a con­ sequence, was unable to address the situation adequately.55Explaining that the in­ surgency had revealed itself to be remarkably systematic in its choice o f targets and tenacious in dismantling the Soviet government institutions in the country­ side of, particularly, Tambov and Kirsanov uezds, Kameron described the inabil­ ity o f local officials to respond adequately: The active struggle with the insurgency suffered throughout from a shortage of effective armed forces, and local commanders, unaware that the antonovshchina enjoyed deep roots in the countryside, operated on the assumption that they were dealing with simple “banditry” and that liquidating the insurgency was as straight­ forward as destroying the main armed enemy groups. On occasion, when the local command enjoyed genuine victories over the insurgents, and the Antonovist bands appeared to scatter, then those same local authorities would quickly dispatch tele­ grams to the center declaring that the liquidation of the insurgency was imminent. But again and again the bands reformed, increasing in number and effectiveness with each passing day. The report then proceeded to evaluate the response o f central authorities to the situation in Tambov. Not surprisingly, it took as its starting point the “misleading55 characterizations provided by officials in Tambov. Recognizing the limited avail­ ability o f combat troops, in light o f the ongoing operations in Poland, Crimea, and Ukraine, it was not surprising that the conflict in Tambov received relatively low priority when provincial officials downplayed the seriousness o f the situation by consistently referring to it as banditry and even provided occasional reassur­ ances about their ability to handle the situation.81 W hen there were requests for reinforcements, according to Kameron, these would be issued alongside counter­ vailing assurances that the rebellion was nearly liquidated and that Soviet author­ ity was being reasserted in the countryside. And officials in Moscow, those attached to VN U S in particular, regularly gave greater credence to those optimistic assess­ ments from Tambov rather than the pessimistic ones. In this, Kameron noted a failure in professional judgm ent by V N U S officials. However, Kamerons report had much more to say about the failings o f provin­ cial military and civilian authorities in their organization, evaluations, and judg­ m ent during the course o f the insurgency to date. Local officials had not only been naive with their sweeping, optimistic assessments made on the strength o f ephemeral successes against the rebels, but also failed to organize the counter­


The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov

insurgency effort. Local commanders and Com m unist Party officials were too quick to resort to demonstrative reprisals against entire village communities while neglecting political work both among the government troops and the wider pop­ ulation caught in the area o f the violence. The M ilitary Council established to oversee operations in late October 1920 failed to impose coherence on the cam ­ paign against the rebels and was aloof from other government and party institu­ tions, irregularly attending to m inor details (vermisheVnye voprosy, in the words o f the report) while neglecting many broader operational and tactical issues. The consequence o f these and other failings was that the rebel movement in Tambov had assumed a “catastrophic character.” In his recommendation, Kameron began with the broad necessity o f “occupying” the three uezds o f the province most affected by the conflict, an objective that was as much directed to imposing effective organization on the counterinsurgency effort as to bringing in enough re­ liable reinforcements. Regarding the latter, Kameron did not dwell on the actual level o f armed troops required to suppress the insurgency, but he did highlight the need to bring in capable reinforcements for the Tambov Com m unist Party, which had lost up to 800 o f its members at the hands o f the “bandits” (note that Kameron him self found it difficult not to fall back into a familiar idiom, even in this document), and the provincial Cheka, which had similarly lost a significant number o f its agents (here estimated as 40 percent) in the conflict. While these rec­ ommendations enjoyed broad support among officials familiar with the situation in Tambov, the report taken as a whole, with its detailed critique o f provincial leaders, also salvaged the reputation o f V. S. Kornev (who had received a personal reprimand from Lenin earlier in the month) and the Internal Security Service at a time when the protracted conflict in the province had become the most prom i­ nent component o f a general political crisis for the Soviet Republic. Kornev him self submitted a brief report to the Central Com mittee and RVSR alongside Kamerons detailed assessment. He took up many o f the same themes in explaining how the situation in the province had reached this critical point. In particular, he provided a precise characterization o f the Tambov conflict, one ob­ viously intended to harmonize with the evaluation contained in Kamerons more extensive report. The Antonov rebellion is a partisan rebellion that engrosses a single territory covering three uezds of Tambov Province and is well organized, planned, and led by the SRs; it has displayed a resilient character (of the partisan variety noted in the case of Makhno) and it requires that we employ a strategy of occupation, something that local command is overseeing at present.82

The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov


W ith this brief description, Kornev articulated the “correct” evaluation o f the in­ surgency in Tambov. It was a “partisan” movement, and not a case o f “banditry.” Following detailed investigation by VN U S, the precise military terminology had been discerned, enabling the appropriate response. But there was no authentic precision behind this change o f descriptors. For all the amateurishness displayed by officials in Tambov when confronted with the rebellion, and for all the false suppressions promised or declared over the previ­ ous four months, they could not be faulted for continuing to use the term banditry in reference to the violence in the countryside o f their province. Bandit continued to be a normative label used by power holders to denigrate and devalue violent op­ position, and Soviet government officials used it no less frequently than tsarist authorities had done before them, even if Soviet officials preferred the more m od­ ern expression bandit to the older expression razboinik. Indeed, bandit was much less ambiguous in this regard than the term preferred by Kornev in December 1920. Partisan had initially carried a positive connotation am ong Com m unist Party members as the rightful descendent o f Friedrich Engels’s volunteer “militias” o f 1848--1849, and early Soviet officials and Com munist Party members initially held to the principle o f a volunteer workers’ militia as the basis for the Red Arm y in the first months o f the civil war. But the decentralizing and destabilizing in­ fluence o f these formations rapidly forced a reconsideration o f the prim acy o f Com munist principle as the party bowed to the necessity o f establishing a Red Arm y that was more traditional in organizational and operational terms in 1918. Further examples o f “partisan” activity in the civil war only reinforced the sus­ picion o f such armed groups held by Soviet officials. Kornev, in his memo, cited the Red Arm y’s experience with Nester M akhno in southeastern Ukraine as an example o f a typical partisan-style movement, and the complications caused by M akhno’s force for both the Red and W hite armies in that region served as evi­ dence for a qualified negative assessment o f partisan warfare. In Siberia, the So­ viet government had largely been the beneficiary o f guerrilla, or partisan, activity behind the front lines o f Admiral Kolchak in 1918-1919, but there, too, the Red Arm y had difficulties maintaining control over many o f the more successful antiW hite guerrillas.83 Partisan, in Soviet usage, was a term that contained no less rhetorical baggage than bandit, but it was also caught between assessments in­ formed by political ideals and m ilitary realism. As such, in late 1920, partisan was a far more ambiguous term than bandit Partisan had certain positive connotations, while in the case o f bandit, the con­ notations were only negative. But bandit had few precise m ilitary meanings in 1920. It was a weapon in the arsenal o f political rhetoricians. Kornev, however, was


The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov

Anti-Antonov propaganda poster. Antonov is presented as a giant in peasant garb laying waste to villages, bearing not only weapons, but also buttons that connect him with the 1917 Provisional Government minister, Aleksandr Kerensky, and the White General, Petr Wrangels. The verse is presented in the style o f a Tsarist decree, proclaiming the destructive intentions o f “Antonov the First” as the “A ll-Thief and All-Bandit Autocrat.” Photograph courtesy o f the Tambovskii Kraevedcheskii M uzei

calling for an end to the use o f the expression banditry in describing the resistance in Tambov, for in political terms, it remained a useful and powerful characteriza­ tion. The point o f his memo, and o f much o f Kameron s own report, was that for strategic purposes, a military required a measure o f terminological precision in order to conceptualize the enemy. One o f the faults attributed to the officials in Tambov was that they had failed to recognize the necessity o f maintaining a strict, conscious division between public rhetoric and private, or internal, language, and that this failure had resulted in the ineffective conduct o f counterinsurgency op­ erations, as well as a breakdown in communication between m ilitary authorities in Moscow and local officials in the province.84 In a meeting with Com m unist Party leaders in Tam bov on 29 December, Kornev reemphasized his conviction that the forces available to commanders in

The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov


Tambov should have been entirely sufficient to establish control over the situation and deal with the insurgency. Estimating these forces at 9,000 infantry and 1,700 cavalry, Kornev once more compared the situation to that confronted by the Red Arm y in southeastern Ukraine against Nester M akhno’s rebel army in which the Soviet government enjoyed a comparable advantage in armed force. He faulted the provincial leaders for their inability to deploy these forces effectively against Antonov, as well as for their inability to m obilize support from among the wider population, particularly local workers.85 His words were indirectly supported by the Tambov uezd Trade Unions Congress, which met in mid-December 1920 and passed a resolution condemning the conduct o f the counterinsurgency effort, find­ ing particular fault in the secrecy under which provincial officials pursued the state campaign against the insurgents. The provincial government had, accord­ ing to the union delegates, maintained a public silence on the rebellion, refusing to involve the “the working and Red Arm y masses,” inadvertently creating a situ­ ation that saw the propagation o f rumors “prom oting the legends o f the victories and ‘escapades’ o f Antonov, o f his extraordinary abilities, and o f the impossibil­ ity o f catching him, such that panic has set in among the workers and the general population.” In the words o f the resolution, the delegates openly recognized that “ in spite o f its protracted nature the bandit movement led by Antonov has not declined, but has, instead, escalated and intensified into a full-scale war against Soviet power.”86 The damning critique o f provincial leaders in Tambov spread throughout the state and military infrastructure, and despite indications that M oscow was paying closer attention to the situation in Tambov, complete with the prospect o f greater involvement by the Red Arm y in the conflict, morale continued to sink as the year drew to an end. The chief o f the Southern Military Sector, O. A. Skudr, who would be Redz’ko’s temporary replacement during the fortnight between the latter’s res­ ignation and the arrival o f his replacement, reported to one o f his officers in Orel on the situation in Tambov on 1 January 1921: The struggle with the rebellion has, until this time, been conducted in the most shameless fashion. If it is true that the force arrayed against Antonov numbers up to 8,000 infantry and 1,500 cavalry, then the leadership of that force has been nothing short of murderous in its conduct. Even in the last days [before my arrival], the commanders in Tambov were micromanaging the activities of individual armed groups, sometimes consisting of up to twenty separate units, and it was not un­ common for the reach of the central command to extend all the way down to the level of individual brigades and companies. There is virtually no scouting or intelli­ gence gathering conducted by military groups, and what scouting reports do occa-



he collapse of the

Soviet government in the south o f Tambov Province

was largely the consequence o f its long-standing weakness, which was mani­

fested in several ways, most significantly in the low level o f preparedness of the armed forces under its control and in the profound insecurity and division dis­ played by state and party officials at various levels o f administration once the dis­ orders began. The sustained violence in the countryside had revealed this weakness and deepened it, and in turn the rebellion itself had begun to change, as the chaotic events o f the first weeks o f the uprising gave way to the more sys­ tematic and organized activities o f an antigovernment insurgency. This trans­ formation could not have been achieved without the active efforts o f the emerging rebel leadership to control the violence any more than it could have been without the effective abdication o f control over the countryside by the di­ vided provincial government. There had already been clues to the political contours o f the rebellion pro­ vided by reported slogans and suggested by the known participants and emerging leaders. These offered few surprises for Soviet state observers, for whom the long­


The Partisan Countryside at War


standing tradition and strength o f the PSR in Tambov, as well as in the wider re­ gion, represented an obvious and expected source o f political instability. As the history o f the rebellion to date demonstrated, however, the rural population o f Tambov was not an SR arm y in waiting, poised to respond to the signal from the “center” to rise up against the Soviet provincial government. Instead, for the lead­ ers o f the nascent insurgency, consolidating control over the violence and as­ serting

m astery




m eant



com municating a coherent political message, as well as laying the organizational foundations for sustained engagement and participation in the resistance. This chapter examines the politics o f the Antonov movement by focusing on the relationship between efforts to project a collective political identity and the practical experience o f the insurgency in the countryside. By concentrating on the microm obilizational aspects o f the insurgency, it highlights the degree to which rebel organizers struggled to normalize collective resistance while m aintaining a broader sense o f the extraordinary required to sustain commitment and solidarity.1

PROJECTING A CENTER: THE STK PROGRAM Soviet government officials reported the range o f slogans and rallying calls that accompanied the activities o f the rebels in various regions and villages with some interest. They were inclined to highlight those slogans that indicated either sym ­ pathy or support for established figures o f the “counterrevolution” or betrayed a seemingly elemental thirst for vengeance and violence. Either the politics o f the rebels could be positioned into an established category, or the slogans that ani­ mated the resistance could be understood as “pre-” or “subpolitical.” Identifying the mainsprings o f the insurgency, however, remained o f m inor interest to offi­ cials in Tambov, who, while increasingly worried about the insurgency and its se­ riousness, nevertheless focused on acquiring the m ilitary means o f suppressing it rather than understanding it. The same array o f rebel slogans that accompanied their m any clashes with government troops were o f greater concern to the newly established leaders o f the insurgency in Tambov. Having survived four m onths o f often chaotic violence, and having managed to capitalize on mistakes by government and m ilitary offi­ cials in Tambov to finally begin consolidating and organizing their support, par­ ticularly among the groups o f young men carrying rifles and riding on horseback, formulating a political message for supporters assumed priority status for those in the STK and Partisan Army. W ith nearly all o f the m ain leaders o f the rebel­


The Partisan Countryside at War

lion having an active or past affiliation with the Socialist Revolutionary Party (PSR) or its leftist offshoot, the LSR, it was little wonder that these two parties were the principal source o f inspiration and guidance in formulating a program o f political objectives that the rebels hoped would become the animating center o f the continued insurgency in Tam bov and beyond. The “ Program o f the U nion o f the Toiling Peasantry,” which emerged in the final weeks o f 1920, is both a conventional and curious document. It lists sixteen objectives that range from statements o f abstract principle to specific statements o f policy. The docum ent also contains two points that address practical consid­ erations following the trium ph o f the anti-Bolshevik movement. Its m ost strik­ ing passage is the preamble, a vivid statement o f intent that overshadows the eighteen points that comprise the bulk o f the document: The Union of the Toiling Peasantry makes as its first objective the overthrow of Communist-Bolshevik power (vlasf), which has taken the country to the edge of destitution, death, and disgrace, and to achieve the destruction of this hated power and its methods [poriadok], the Union has organized voluntary partisan units that are carrying out an armed struggle in order to achieve the following aims:1 1. The political equality of all citizens, regardless of class.2 2. An end to the civil war and the return to peaceful life. 3. Full cooperation with all foreign powers to achieve a stable peace. 4. Summoning of the Constituent Assembly according to the principle of equal, direct, and secret balloting, without any attempt to predetermine its will in the creation of a new political order, and respect of the right of the voters to remove representatives that fail to respect the will of the people. 5. Until the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, a provisional authority in the localities and in the center will be formed following voting among the unions and parties that participated in the struggle against the Communists. 6. Freedom of speech, press, conscience, unionization, and assembly. 7. Bring into reality the law on land to its original extent, as drafted and passed by the Constituent Assembly. 8. The supply of products of first necessity, food in particular, to the popula­ tions of the towns and villages via the cooperatives. 9. Regulation of workers’ wages and the prices of manufactured goods produced in factories and workshops controlled by the government. 10. Partial denationalization of workshops and factories, with heavy industry, mining, and metallurgy enterprises remaining in the hands of the government. 11. Workers’ control and government oversight over production.

The Partisan Countryside at War


12. Acceptance of Russian and foreign capital for the reconstruction of economic life [khoziaistvennaia i ekonomicheskaia zhizn] in the country. 13. Immediate resumption of political and economic/trade relations with foreign powers. 14. Free self-determination for national groups of the former Russian Empire. 15. Provision of extensive government credit for the assistance of small rural households [melkie seVskie khoziaistva] .3 16. Unfettered production for cottage industries. 17. Independent (svobodnoe) instruction in schools and mandatory education in literacy. 18. Currently organized and active partisan voluntary units shall not be dis­ banded in advance of the convocation of the Constituent Assembly and its decision on the issue of a standing army.4 The program was signed by the Tambov provincial committee o f the Union o f the Toiling Peasantry. The com position o f the program, which appears at times to toggle together slogans and ideas raised in previous such political programs, com ­ bined with the inclusion o f explicit instructions rather than statements o f objec­ tives (such as points 5 and 18), leaves one to conclude that the program, rather than being a docum ent com posed by senior PSR activists in M oscow or else­ where, was in fact the work o f local members o f the STK and Partisan Arm y in Tambov Province.5 To what extent, though, was this list o f objectives a docum ent designed to ap­ peal either to a base o f support among the village communities o f southeastern Tambov, or to a wider audience o f possible sympathizers in the countryside and beyond? The specific objectives cited in the docum ent appear calculated less to appeal to particular grievances held by people under Bolshevik rule than to dem onstrate the broad base o f support the rebel leaders believed they repre­ sented. This included the short- and long-term concerns o f industrial workers as well as members o f the intelligentsia and professional classes. It also, o f course, in­ cluded the peasantry, both farmers and those involved in small-scale rural en­ terprise. In addition, there was the point concerning national self-determination and the breakup o f the Russian Empire, words that had been the stock and trade o f leftist parties for over a generation. But the docum ent as a whole appears to have little in the way o f a systematic delineation o f goals as a considered politi­ cal program. The ideas contained in it are far from random, but to identify the program and its goals as a clear representation o f rebel ideology would be to over­ interpret the docum ent and its significance. This was an example o f the political


The Partisan Countryside at War

program being produced to advance a claim to legitimacy. It was an effort by rebel leaders to project their insurgency beyond the limited confines o f the rural provincial setting and to present their m ovem ent as a challenge to the central Soviet government on behalf o f the people as a whole. Indeed, in their spirit, the goals and objectives listed in the docum ent would not have been out o f place in any political program advanced by leftist political parties, particularly after M arch 1917.6 However, one wonders how those who drafted this particular program could have believed that advocacy o f renewed trading links with foreign governments could aid them in their immediate task o f creating a centerpiece for political m obilization in the expanding territory o f the insurgency. For this reason, it does not warrant detailed consideration except when taken in its entirety as representating the aspirations and ambitions o f the rebel leadership. If any details o f the program achieved true resonance in the immediate con­ text o f the ongoing insurgency itself, it was the impassioned call for the over­ throw o f the Soviet government and the familiar advocacy o f reconstituting the Constituent Assembly. The Com m unist regime was considered to be the source o f all the problems that afflicted Russia during the civil war, especially the coer­ cive policies that had been most influential in provoking the periodic violence that characterized the countryside o f Tam bov for m ost o f the previous three years. Perhaps for this reason, such specific policies as forced grain requisition­ ing and labor and carting obligations are not m entioned in the program itself; these were policies that stemmed from the fact o f Com m unist rule. Elimination o f the Com m unists in government would also mean an end to their “methods,” which invariably meant the dictatorial conduct o f appointed agents and com ­ missars who ruled by decree and without consent. The shape o f Russia following the victory o f the anti-Bolshevik m ovem ent would be determined by a dem o­ cratically elected Constituent Assembly— presumably newly elected rather than restored in some way to its original composition. Although there was m ention o f a temporary, or “provisional,” government, there is no indication either in the program itself or in other political pronouncements by the rebels, that the O c­ tober revolution that overthrew the Provisional Government in 1917 was illegit­ imate and that the clock should be turned back to March 1917. Indeed, despite the influence o f the PSR within the STK and Partisan Army, there was no evidence o f nostalgia for the Provisional Governm ent in their materials. In this, at least, they



sive to the sentiments o f the village com munities such as those in Tambov, for w hom O ctober continued to signify the beginning o f their own revolution in

The Partisan Countryside at War


the countryside.7 The place o f the Constituent Assem bly in the slogans and program o f the rebels represented a m iddle ground that maintained the legitimacy o f the agrar­ ian revolution while at the same time denying legitimacy to the Com m unist gov­ ernment. Citing the forced dispersal o f the Constituent Assembly as the m om ent o f betrayal, rather than the overthrow o f the Provisional Government two months earlier, the rebels in Tambov remained consistent in their objectives while at the same time drawing upon slogans invoking the Constituent Assembly that were fa­ miliar to citizens o f Russia, both in the countryside and towns. What did the C o n ­ stituent Assembly represent to average people in the Tam bov countryside that its defense could be made the centerpiece o f the insurgents’ political program? In one sense, proclaiming support for the Constituent Assembly had by 1920-1921 becom e shorthand for opposition to the Com m unist government. Beyond sig­ nifying an alternative to Com m unist dictatorship, popular understandings o f the Constituent Assembly did not run deep.8 In another sense, the Constituent Assembly represented an alternative that, for all its vagueness, held out the hope for a better government that would refl­ ect the ideals o f dem ocracy that had been so central to discussions o f politics im ­ mediately following the abdication o f the tsar in 1917. It represented the opposite o f dictatorship— the experience o f which was consistently emphasized in rebel political pronouncements and propaganda— and as an institution, albeit an in­ terim institution, the Constituent Assembly held out the promise o f democratic elections and representative government.9 In either sense, the Constituent A s­ sembly was most im portant as representing an alternative to the dictatorship o f the Com m unist Party rather than as the em bodim ent o f popular aspirations. It was a project, at best, and would not on its own rally support for the rebellion among the civilian population. The overthrow o f the Com m unist dictatorship and the tangible alternative o f the Constituent Assembly were com plementary goals, and they represent the most important facet o f the STK program in its con­ tribution to the Tam bov insurgency. It was in these most basic elements that the STK program contributed to the ideology o f the rebel m ovem ent.10

ENLISTING A PARTISAN POPULATION The articulation o f a political program was a part o f the larger project o f pro­ viding structure and organization to the insurgency. Copies o f the program would be distributed and read out as political workers entered villages accompanying


The Partisan Countryside at War

Partisan Arm y units. The program provided an introduction to the insurgency that would develop into a longer-term relationship with the creation o f local in­ stitutions that would form ally tie a village com m unity to the rebel movement. Setting up individual STK committees in the areas o f strongest support for the rebels had already been under way before formal instructions on the creation, structure, and function o f these local institutions had been printed and distrib­ uted. STK committees had already been form ed for the three uezds where the rebels had achieved a foothold, all likely to have been relatively close to the base o f the provincial committee in Kamenka.11 Extending the network down to the village level required a higher degree o f organization and control to ensure that the process would contribute to the cohesiveness o f the insurgency rather than splinter it. W ith both the provincial and uezd STKs issuing orders and instruc­ tions, a link in the hierarchy was required to ensure the proper execution o f or­ ders as well as to maintain com munications between the central leadership and the localities. Intermediate control was to be exercised by the regional STKs, composed o f five persons, four o f whom would head a particular “department,” with the fifth serving as the STK chairman. The responsibilities o f the regional STKs were the most critical to the functioning o f the entire network and to maintaining support for the Partisan Army. These included duties that related to the local economy and supply for the rebels, mobilization o f new rebel units, coordination o f political work am ong the local population, and m aintaining up-to-date inform ation re­ garding the village communities and the local STKs. W hile the members o f uezd committees were evidently appointed by the provincial STK, regional committees were formed and sanctioned by gatherings o f local committees in the villages and volosts. W hen a sufficient concentration o f local STKs had been reached in a given area— three or four volosts typically constituted a region— then a regional STK would be selected. Likewise, on the lowest level o f the hierarchy, members o f village and volost STKs were to be selected by a popular vote o f a general as­ sembly o f individual communities. N ot only would the decision to organize a village or volost STK be decided by a general assembly, but also fellow com m u­ nity members elected the STK chairman and his two fellow m em bers.12 The great expansion in the system o f STKs occurred in the first three months o f 1921. W hile some committees were already in existence before the provincial STK issued instructions on their formation, these had been formed either before the outbreak o f the insurgency and had reemerged once security conditions al­ lowed or had been rather haphazardly created by rebel units in villages where they had conducted mobilizations or had received support from the local com ­

The Partisan Countryside at War


m unity.13 Creating a network to support the insurgency and participate in sus­ taining the movement required the enlistment o f village communities on a much wider scale and on a more organized footing. The appointm ent o f political agi­ tators by the provincial STK to travel throughout the territory o f the insurgency, often alongside Partisan Arm y units, set a process in m otion that would see the network o f STKs expand to nearly 300 by M arch 1921. This was accomplished through a fairly standard routine, although variations can be attributed to the style and manner o f the individual political organizer involved. The entrance o f a Partisan Arm y unit into a given village during the winter o f 1920--1921 became the occasion for the assembly o f all com m unity members to hear speeches on the efforts o f the insurgents. The political program o f the STK played a prom inent part, as it was read out and elaborated upon by the political activist attached to the given rebel unit.14 Sheer curiosity was often enough to bring people out into the streets to hear these speeches and observe the display, although sometimes fear o f reprisals by government troops kept villagers in their homes, refusing to be implicated in the resistance.15 In those villages where an assembly gathered to hear the speeches and pronouncements o f the political ac­ tivists, the village com m unity was invited to effectively join the rebellion and form their own committee o f the STK. The presence o f rebels— particularly wellarmed ones— would certainly have played an im portant part in influencing vil­ lagers, either by impressing locals w ith their strength and organization, or sheer intimidation. As with the initial appeals made by Antonov in the first weeks o f the insurgency, the rifle and machine gun played an exceptional role in rebel propa­ ganda. Still, despite the presence o f armed rebels and the rhetorical flourishes o f the political agitator, some villages rejected the overtures or simply asked for time to deliberate in private. In Tokarevka volost (Tambov uezd), one village asked for twenty-four hours to consider the offer made by the agitator attached to the Thirteenth Bitiugov regiment, a request that was granted and later rewarded by a decision to join the insurgency.16 In another case, further from the epicenter o f the insurgency, activists working in Usman uezd noted in their report on activi­ ties in K azm inka volost that “Bolshe Danilovskoe com mune [obshchestvo] ab­ solutely refuses to consider joining the Green A rm y organization,” possibly the only reference to the “greens” to be found among materials o f the STK and Par­ tisan A rm y in Tambov.17 Such refusals, however, were not com m on, and the next stage in the process o f organizing local STKs was to draft a resolution to be voted on by the assembled villagers.18 There were com m on elements to the rhetoric and themes o f all the surviving declarations, but for the most part, their composition seemed to depend


The Partisan Countryside at War

m ost on the political agitator at the center o f these general assemblies, who was often identified in the declarations themselves: We, the citizens of Maksimovka village, have unanimously agreed to give our promise at this critical [goriachii] moment to support the report of the [political] organizer, [Sergei Ivanovich] Belousov, on the struggle with this pack [svora] of Communists in order that we can finally uproot the power of these evil dogs and quickly place it in the hands of the Toiling Peasantry and the Constituent Assembly. We heartily answer the call to strangle this entire pack of dogs and unhesitatingly commit our support until final victory is achieved.19 Each declaration was unique, even if the same agitator was behind the com posi­ tion, which would appear to indicate that the individual villagers made their own contribution, however small, to the content. Besides words regarding Com munist “dogs” and “vampires,” as well as positive references to “partisans” and “comrades,” the declarations were also characterized by reference to “our civil war” or “our revolution.” However confused these statements m ay have been in a technical sense, the “we” in such statements was clearly the “ toiling peasantry,” and the points o f reference remained the 1917 revolution and the civil war conflict that had followed.20 Specific reference to the Constituent Assembly in declarations con­ jured up images o f revolutionary promise that predated the Bolshevik takeover in the autum n o f 1917. The form er chairm an o f the Tam bov Soviet Executive Com m ittee, V. A. Antonov-Ovseenko, who w ould later return to the province as VTsIK s plenipo­ tentiary charged with overseeing the counterinsurgency effort in 1921, wrote in an expansive report that anti-Semitism was an animating force behind the rebel move­ ment. This was so much the case, Antonov-Ovseenko wrote, that the Tambov re­ bellion was as m uch the creation o f the PSR as o f the blackhundreds.21 Certainly identifying the Com m unist Party, particularly its leaders, w ith the Jews was a long-standing charge familiar to all since 1917. Governm ent and party officials were understandably inclined to report any instances in which anti-Semitic ref­ erences arose in connection with the insurgency.22 Likewise, any incidents in which Jewish persons who were not members o f the Com m unist Party had suf­ fered at the hands o f the rebels were likely to be taken as evidence o f rebels tar­ geting Jews in the area o f the conflict.23 Such incidents were quite rare, however, owing to the small num ber o f Jewish families in the countryside at the time o f the conflict.24 In one notable incident that took place in the region o f Tokarevka (Kirsanov uezd) in January 1921, four Jewish families were evacuated from the

The Partisan Countryside at War


area o f the insurgency by fellow com m unity members, helped by members o f the STK m ilitia (to be discussed below).25 W hile confirm ing that anti-Semitism was in strong evidence during the course o f the insurgency, whose violence was evidently feared by com m unity members, this particular incident also com pli­ cates the picture often painted by Soviet officials and historians about the place o f anti-Semitism in the rebellion. There is no doubt that anti-Semitism was a fa­ miliar idiom in appeals for support in the struggle against the Soviet government (and before October 1917, in the case o f the Bolshevik Party), but the language o f anti-Semitism was not central to appeals made by the rebels in Tambov.26 W hile the Com munists, whether regarded as Jews or not, were certainly iden­ tified as being outsiders and usurpers o f the revolution, the insurgency itself, judging from the village declarations produced during the formation o f the STKs, was presented to citizens as a m ovem ent that emerged from the village m ilieu but, at the same time, came from without. The relationship between the “parti­ sans” and the “people” was emphasized, but the partisans were never portrayed as the people. The partisans had a corporate identity all their own. Here is an example from Bolshe-Lazovka volost (Tambov uezd): We, the citizens of Novo-Matveevka village, called together for a meeting by comrade Ostroukhov and having listened to several reports, unanimously state: “That we declare from this moment forward a merciless and cruel war against our sworn enemies— the Communists. With all the strength in our indignant souls we declare to our cursed bolshevik enemies: on Russian land there will not remain one single Communist. We send a brotherly welcome to all partisan units and to all those comrade peasants who have risen up or are presently rebelling, and we promise to assist you and support you until we have no more strength, and no more food.”27 The role o f the outside agitator, as well as o f the active rebels, in leading the vil­ lage communities and m obilizing them for participation was stressed in many declarations. Such words effectively framed the experience o f the years o f civil war and, especially, the previous several weeks o f chaotic fighting in the coun­ tryside, as both formative for the village communities and dependent upon the initiative o f the partisans, who would place the village communities on the right­ eous path o f open rebellion: We, the citizens of two villages [Chicherino and Malyi Burnak], brought together at a meeting led by Comrade Ostroukhov and having heard several reports by him and others, declare that we have always been enemies of the Communist regime, but until now we have not been organized, until now have been unable to break the


The Partisan Countryside at War

shameful chains of slavery, unable to overcome the pitiful fear which pervaded our souls and froze our hearts— fear which we ourselves allowed to grow and which was used by the blood-sucking Communists to bleed us of the laborer’s blood. Now we have broken the chains of fear, and have begun to dismantle the enmity, sown among us by the Communists, which divided us and allowed them to survive and reap many fruits. Now we stand organized, strong, and powerful [strashnye], pro­ claiming a merciless struggle against the regime of the vampire-Communists.28

The partisans were a vanguard that had struggled to incite the countryside, which for so long had been politically impotent, to rebel in defense o f their own inter­ ests and those o f Russia as a whole. Village communities were asked to vote on these declarations and to com m it themselves to “joining” the insurgency by form ing their own local STK com m it­ tee. In some cases, the declarations were passed around as citizens were asked to sign the document. In other cases, the docum ent was taken from household to household, beyond the scope o f the meeting, and heads o f household were asked to read and sign the declaration. Households that refused to sign were noted down separately, an obvious disincentive to anyone considering breaking with the majority.29 The m anipulation o f com m unity pressures was similarly evident in the selec­ tion o f members for the new STK committee. Often, village assemblies were asked by the STK organizer whom they wanted as their committee chairman. Because most o f the statements we have from such individuals who served as chairmen o f STKs were taken during government interrogations, the extent o f voluntarism is nearly impossible to gauge. No one wanted to admit to having served in the STKs, and if forced to do so, they claimed that their service was provided under duress. The STK organization itself did not have extensive selection criteria.30The main requirements for a committee chairman were to have the trust o f the local pop­ ulation and not to be a Com m unist Party member. Other desirable attributes for a committee chairman were literacy and experience with customary bureaucratic routines. This already narrowed the pool o f candidates considerably in the rural villages o f southern Tam bov Province.31 Those who had previously served in the soviet adm inistration, particularly in m ore senior roles, were the m ost clearly qualified, especially given the exceptionally low level o f enlistment in the C o m ­ munist Party am ong village soviet functionaries in the province. It m ay come as some surprise, however, that so many o f those who served in the local com m it­ tees o f the STK had held similar positions in the soviets being replaced within the territory o f the insurgency.

The Partisan Countryside at War


Men who were selected to serve on the STK committees during the initial ap­ proaches by rebel agitators touched upon one aspect o f this. M any insisted that they had little choice in the matter, and they suspected that, in effectively forcing the men to assume these positions o f authority in the local STK, members o f the com m unity were protecting themselves from possible retribution by government forces should the village be occupied by the Red Army.32 In other cases, however, the decision to serve came as a result o f strong appeals by their fellow villagers that m oved them to assume the post. Such appeals, judging from statements taken during interrogations, were fairly uniform and suggest that the STK agitators m ay have played a role. The key question posed during these exchanges was this: “W hy are you willing to serve for the soviet, and yet you are not willing to serve us?” This must have been an effective appeal on the part o f the village com m u­ nity, for m any found it impossible to keep up their resistance. “In this way,” wrote Fedor M atiukhin, who served as STK chairman in Krasivka volost, “I was com­ pelled to serve voluntarily on the committee.”33 If the organizers o f the STK committees were not reluctant to enlist the in­ volvement o f former soviet functionaries, their attitude toward members o f the Com munist Party could not have been more different. The depletion o f the coun­ tryside o f Com munist Party members, either through murder or flight, was noth­ ing short o f spectacular in the first m onths o f the insurgency, but nevertheless some unfortunates remained in the villages at the turn o f the new year.34 Long be­ fore an STK political organizer entered a village during the first violent months o f insurgency, rebel soldiers would have visited and demanded that local C o m ­ munist Party members be turned over to the Partisan Army.35 However, it was not unheard o f for Com m unist Party members to join the STK, alongside oth­ ers attached to the local soviet organization, once their village was asked to form such a committee. There was probably a strong element o f self-preservation in such decisions, and Com m unist Party members would have relied on their fellow villagers to protect them.36 For this reason, it is more likely that Com m unist Party members would have “joined” the insurgency in smaller villages, where greater trust and familiarity could be expected within the com munity.37

THE SÏSS AND THE PARTISAN ARMY IN THE VIUA6ES In what appears to be a pattern in the formation o f local STKs in the first weeks o f 1921, a com m unity’s willingness to organize a committee by publicly declaring support for the insurgency and selecting local STK representatives was followed


The Partisan Countryside at War

by a further deepening o f ties between the village com m unity and the rebels. In m any cases, the first task o f the STK in a given locality was the organization o f some act o f sabotage, to be performed b y villagers, typically against railway lines or bridges.38 For obvious reasons, such activity was limited to villages situated near such infrastructure points. But these acts o f sabotage, as with other deeds or­ chestrated by the new village and volost STKs, were relatively low-risk activities that could involve a larger range o f people in the insurgency.39 N ot only did the attacks on the railways considerably damage the efforts o f state authorities to main­ tain the meager volum e o f rail traffic that passed through the central provinces, but also they represented a first level o f involvement by average villagers in the ever-expanding insurgency. Getting people involved at an early stage prepared them for what was intended to be the rapid introduction o f ordered relations between the villages and the units o f the Partisan Army. Instructions formulated in December 1920 conceived o f the local STKs regulating village econom ic and social relations in ways that w ould maximize the effectiveness o f the insurgency rather than actualizing any social or political arrangements that m ay have counted among its goals.40 In the villages and volosts, only STK members and the militiamen acting under their au­ thority were to be armed, and their activities were focused on m aintaining vigi­ lance in the countryside and assuring that the villages would serve effectively as a base o f support for the Partisan Army. Every village STK was supposed to have at least two active militiamen who performed a range o f duties, from com m on policing functions to participating in Partisan A rm y operations.41 The variety o f militia activities m ay explain why there was such a range o f names for the militia found both in rebel documents and interrogation records. In addition to the general titles o f militia referred to in several STK orders and in­ structions, what appear to be the same bodies are referred to as “ internal security troops” or “m ilitary security” through the adaptation o f the Soviet government acronym “VOKhR.” (The acronym was rarely, if ever, presented in capital letters, thus form ing the noun vokhr.) This borrowing o f the Soviet expression was par­ ticularly noted by governm ent investigators and officials, and the regular ap­ pearance o f the word vokhr in reference to the rebel militia may have reflected the government's own interest in the m irror-image organization o f the insurgency than a true “reflection” o f the summarized rebel documents. O n the other end, in the villages, the militia and its members were frequently referred to by tsaristera terms, such as sotniki and desiatnikiythe colloquial names for prerevolution­ ary local police and arm ed forces o f public order.42 These expressions had probably not died out with the fall o f the tsarist regime, however, and locals would

The Partisan Countryside at War


have identified militiamen operating in the countryside as desiatniki and sotniki, regardless o f whether they were serving the 1917 Provisional Government, the So­ viet government, or the insurgency. W hile at times the use o f three different ways o f identifying the militia suggests a specificity and precision behind the appear­ ance o f these terms, a close examination o f the functions and prerogatives o f the m ilitia reveals a m uch m ore fluid organization that could, at any time, have re­ called earlier precedents or represented something entirely novel. Attending to the security o f the village largely meant guarding against govern­ ment spies or other potential internal enemies o f the rebellion in villages with STKs. M any o f the duties o f the village and volost militias dealt with maintain­ ing vigilance among the local population and rooting out any Com m unist Party members and suspected sympathizers w ith the Soviet regim e.43 In rebel-held areas, STKs issued passes to individuals that permitted travel between villages, although how extensive this system was is impossible to determine. Controlling all m ovements between villages was well beyond the capacity o f the STK net­ work, even at its height, but issuing official documents was certainly instrum en­ tal to m aintaining com munications between rebel units and the Partisan Arm y headquarters, and between STK committees. The delivery o f correspondence and official “packets” o f instructions and directives was accomplished by villagers m o­ bilized for the task by the STK committees.44At the same time, the village and volost STKs and militia were instrumental in arranging security for Partisan A rm y units resting in a given village, setting up rotas involving villagers taking shifts atop bell towers or along roads on the lookout for Red Arm y patrols.45 The STKs and Partisan A rm y also enlisted the participation o f the village population to feed the network o f intelligence that kept them informed o f Red Arm y troop movements more generally, as well as other developments that would clarify the dynam ic context for the insurgency. This especially meant utilizing those villagers who traveled between town and country and even across uezd and provincial borders.46 The village STKs com municated inform ation regarding the location and movements o f Red Arm y troops in the countryside, the forces that were being garrisoned in the towns, as well as the general political “m ood ” o f the m ilitary and civilian populations in the towns— inform ation that could be learned through simple observation or “innocent” conversation with other civil­ ians. Women, children, and the elderly were enlisted in this type o f activity, and even men in disguise were sent out to learn about affairs in the towns, as confirmed by Soviet government reports o f villagers dressed as monks, or even as women, engaged in intelligence gathering for the Partisan Arm y near Morshansk.47 The Partisan Arm y and STKs exploited a range o f contacts both within the


The Partisan Countryside at War

countryside and the towns to further advance their knowledge o f the govern­ ment’s counterinsurgency efforts, with individuals serving in the soviet adminis­ tration providing information to STK contacts, and even sympathetic individuals in the government commissariats in the towns supplying details on the Red Arm y and the governm ent to the rebels. In one case, three men in the uezd m ilitary commissariat in Kozlov were arrested by Cheka agents for supplying briefing pa­ pers on Red Arm y activities in the province to contacts in the Partisan Army.48 In Saratov Province, according to a former member o f the local Cheka organiza­ tion, Partisan Arm y agents had been cultivated in a variety o f government insti­ tutions, including the m ilitia, the Food Com m issariat, and the local soviets. According to the Cheka agent, G eorgii Vedeniapin: “ O ur counterintelligence efforts were then very poor, and we never suspected that Antonov and his com ­ manders at that time knew so m uch [about our activities].”49 Ignorance o f the rebels’ efforts to collect intelligence eventually gave way to what Vedeniapin labeled “spy-mania,” the overcompensating vigilance by gov­ ernment officials and Red A rm y leaders in the summer o f 1921.50 To an extent, their fears were valid and vigilance was long overdue, even though the situation in the countryside proved to be delicate and complicated, as officials sought to distinguish between everyday activities and rebel reconnaissance. O ne Red A rm y officer was reprimanded after an incident in which a wom an came to his head­ quarters trying to learn the location o f her son, whom she claimed was a m em ­ ber o f the newly form ed Red A rm y cavalry brigade com m anded by V. I. Dmitrenko. He told her the brigade was located in the village o f Bolshe Lipovitsa, and when she inquired whether she could travel to Bolshe Lipovitsa to meet him without encountering other Red Arm y units, he answered: “Go ahead, love [tetka], you won’t encounter anyone on your way there.” 51 Was she a spy, collecting intel­ ligence on Red Arm y troop locations, or simply a concerned mother? Such ex­ changes lost their air o f innocence as the extent o f the rebel intelligence network grew clearer to state authorities. That network placed priority, as well, on pooling information regarding de­ velopments outside the province and the immediate context o f the insurgency. News o f political developments in other parts o f the former Russian Empire that could be connected to the broader anti-Bolshevik movement extended the frame o f reference for rebel leaders engaged in seemingly small-scale guerrilla attacks on Red Arm y patrols, and that widening frame o f reference drew on the information collected via villagers and “ noncombatants.” Individuals who traveled beyond provincial borders, either on personal business or at the urging o f the STK and the Partisan Army, were regularly “debriefed” on the situation in those localities,

The Partisan Countryside at War


whether in nearby Voronezh, or as far away as the Urals. Dem obilized or cap­ tured Red A rm y soldiers were a source o f inform ation regarding other “fronts” against the Soviet regime.52As the rebellion in Tam bov grew stronger in the first months o f 1921, the importance o f this inform ation regarding the wider context for their activities grew accordingly, and as the fortunes o f the rebels declined by the summer, that same interest in the developments in other fronts continued and possibly even grew in im portance for the remaining active insurgents.

THE STMS AND H E B E RECRUITMENT As indicated by the rapid changes in the Partisan Arm y structure in the first weeks o f 1921, one o f the most im portant activities involving the STK committees at the local level during their first weeks o f existence was the m obilization o f young men for service in the rebel army. Each new committee, from the regional level down to the village, was to have one m ember to lead a “m ilitary department,” which would draft and maintain lists o f young men o f m obilization age, set at eighteen to forty years. Initial appeals for volunteers could be followed by orders from the regional STK for m en to be conscripted into service. In the case o f such an order, according to the Cheka investigator who summarized captured STK materials, a local partisan unit was to be formed in three to five days.53This newly form ed unit proved its viability by conducting some sort o f m inor operation, such as an act o f sabotage like those described above, or a m ore direct con­ frontation with a small Red A rm y squadron or an attack on a nearby soviet or Com m unist Party cell. Following this, the local unit w ould likely be ordered to join an established Partisan Arm y regiment in the area. The emphasis on voluntarism in the instructions and orders o f the Partisan A rm y and STK was complicated by the fact that the vast m ajority o f young men who were available for service were either Red A rm y recidivists, rejects, or de­ mobs. M any had managed to avoid service in the Red Arm y by securing exemp­ tions, and regardless o f the validity o f their claims to exemption, and regardless o f how they secured it, the documents they had obtained to validate their exempt status in the face o f Soviet antidesertion measures were understandably valuable to them. Therefore, confiscating or destroying exemption documents left many young men with little choice in response to appeals by the STK for service in the Partisan Arm y.54 However, coercing young men into service with the Partisan A rm y was recognized as potentially counterproductive, and as long as the rebels enjoyed success in their clashes with Red Arm y troops, and as long as there re­


The Partisan Countryside at War

mained targets for rebel attack that promised material gain as well as catharsis for young men whose hatred o f the Soviet regime was likely at its peak, enlistment was not a problem for either the STKs or the Partisan Army. Unlike the situation in the first weeks o f the insurgency, when poorly organized rebel groups criss­ crossed the countryside and engaged in often random acts o f violence and in­ tim idation at a time when farmers were still busy with some o f the m ost intense field work o f the agricultural calendar, the response o f villagers, and young men in particular, to the overtures o f the organized Partisan Arm y and the STKs was more favorable in the first weeks o f 1921. At this time the rebel organization was reaching its peak, and countervailing domestic responsibilities were at a minimum. Groups o f village men, organized by the local STKs and agitators, even ap­ pealed to the Partisan Arm y to recognize their improvised m ilitary unit or m ili­ tia as a full Partisan A rm y regiment; these requests were not always approved, however, either because o f doubts regarding reliability and the ability o f Partisan A rm y headquarters to control the armed rebels or concerns that the Partisan Arm y could not sufficiently arm the new regiment. As such, many such groups o f village men enjoyed a somewhat fluid existence, joining and leaving established Partisan A rm y regiments with some regularity, as circumstances and conditions changed.55 But the success o f the rebels in recruiting supporters in the early weeks o f 1921 saw the structure o f the Partisan Arm y grow considerably, divided into two distinct and largely independent “armies” com manded by Ivan Gubarev and Petr Tokmakov. The “ First Partisan Arm y” consisted o f several more regiments than the “ Second Partisan Arm y” throughout the first half o f 1921, although the “ Second” shared its com m and headquarters with the Supreme Headquarters o f the Partisan A rm y led by Aleksandr Antonov, which was accompanied by the “ Special Regiment,” a sort o f praetorian guard that enjoyed m any advantages re­ garding supply and equipment over other regiments with territorial designations. In all, there were fifteen regiments o f the Partisan Arm y at the height o f the re­ bellion in the first quarter o f 1921, including the “Special Regiment,” and over the course o f the insurgency others w ould be organized to replace regiments that had, for one reason or another, ceased to exist. In addition, smaller brigades o f in­ surgents operated on the margins, m ost likely outside the control o f the Partisan A rm y but potentially ready for integration into the rebel m ovem ent.56 At this juncture in the history o f the insurgency, STK appeals for active fighters grew more selective. The earliest instructions o f the STK attest to the active target­ ing o f local individuals with m ilitary experience. The consistent claim by Soviet propagandists that the rebels courted the support o f former tsarist officers was certainly correct, but this was also true o f the Red Arm y itself.57 More important

The Partisan Countryside at War


Organizational scheme o f the

cxGMa opratiioanwi

Partisan A rm y o f the Tambov region. This is a flow chart by the Special Department o f the Tambov Cheka, which began reviewing seized rebel materials systematically in April 1921 and produced this chart by mid-June. It illustrates how governments often project familiar structures and levels o f organization onto non-state challengers. The reality o f the rebel organization was much more fluid. Photograph cour­ tesy o f the Tamhovskii Kraevedcheskii M uzei

for the capabilities o f the Partisan Army were the young men who had experience in the Red Army and had received rudimentary military training and perhaps combat experience.58 Such men were immediately targeted in STK instructions, issued in December 1920, when the Red Army was beginning its long process of demobilization.59Likewise, any Red Army soldier who appeared in his native vil­ lage, whether following demobilization or on official leave of absence, was tar­ geted by STK officials for enlistment into the Partisan Army.60 One young man, Grigorii Kolobenkov, told investigators that he fell in with the rebels quite early into the conflict in 1920. When his brother, Fedor, returned from Red Army serv­ ice in January 1920, he and five o f his friends joined the Partisan Army near their native village o f Grushevka (Treskino volost, Kirsanov uezd). Grigorii told in­ vestigators that he had been allowed to quit the rebels and return home once his brother had joined.61 Kolobenkov’s release from the Partisan Army may have been the result o f offi-


The Partisan Countryside at War

cial rebel policy lim iting m obilization to no m ore than one young man from a single household.62 Although no records exist detailing such a practice, it would have mirrored the Red Arm y’s own official policy regarding the weight o f m ili­ tary demands upon a given family. It was not the only parallel with government policy regarding m ilitary servicemen and the “ home front.” Local STK com m it­ tees were instructed to privilege the households o f partisan soldiers in ways that recalled the policy commitments o f the Soviet regime to the welfare o f service­ men and their families. Com mittees were charged with distributing among the local population any property that had been confiscated or seized by rebel units in the course o f their operations. This included grain that had been taken from government collection points or railcars following rebel assaults, the property o f state and collective farms looted by the Partisan A rm y (often with the assistance o f nearby village communities), or items confiscated from the families o f known Com m unist Party members. Distribution regularly favored the families o f Par­ tisan Arm y soldiers, although the STKs were also instructed to return any items recovered from government stores that had been confiscated from village house­ holds (provided that a household could prove ownership o f the property).63 Other households were similarly favored in the new status hierarchy o f the re­ bellion. STKs maintained lists o f households generally regarded as “favorable” to the partisan cause, just as they kept lists o f families that had “suffered at the hands o f red bands,” referring to those who had been the targets o f government reprisals or the victims o f self-provisioning (samosnabzhenie) by Red Arm y units.64 Control over items confiscated and seized by the Partisan Arm y and other agents o f the insurgency was only one facet o f the STK s involvement in the local economy. During the winter months, regulation o f the food supply to ensure that the needs o f the rebel soldiers were m et required the control o f local mills.65 According to the instructions issued by the provincial STK, local committees were to require local millers to effectively “tax” grain that they milled for local farmers, taking a cut o f one-fifteenth for standard wheat or rye flour, and one-twentieth for flour that contained nongrain filler (Surrogat), such as pigweed. Similarly, the STKs were instructed to obtain a portion o f all sunflower oil produced at local presses.66 During the height o f the insurgency in the winter months o f early 1921, delivery o f foodstuffs to the rebels typically took place in the village itself, as local STK rep­ resentatives would be inform ed in advance o f the arrival o f a Partisan Arm y unit, and they would be expected to have food and fodder available for the soldiers and their horses, as well as adequate quarters.67 Keeping records o f the num ber and type o f livestock, including riding horses, was similarly a part o f the responsibil-

The Partisan Countryside at War


ity o f the STKs to both regulate the local econom y and support the Partisan Army.68 If a com m unity agreed to organize an STK committee and “join” the in­ surgency, their village was many times more likely to be visited regularly by active rebel forces, and the demands placed upon them were apt to be heavy, especially during the difficult season during which Partisan Arm y numbers increased so dramatically. The encroachment o f the actual fighting between the Partisan and Red armies on the village communities must have been similarly heavy, although it is diffi­ cult to gauge this for the period when the rebels were dom inant in the country­ side. O ne statement left b y a villager from Tsarevka volost (Kirsanov uezd), describes the intense interest o f villagers when clashes between rebel and gov­ ernment forces occurred nearby. Young and old alike in the village o f Ledovka would climb to the roofs o f the houses to get a good vantage point, enjoying the spectacle despite the risks this entailed.69 Such curiosity, however, was unlikely to have been the norm , even at the peak o f the insurgency's strength. There were many more reasons for villagers to seek the relative safety o f their houses when violence broke out in the vicinity.

N A N A « PARTISAN RELATIONS The dependence o f the rebels upon the local population for horses, food, and fodder left vast opportunities for abuse o f authority by partisan units, particularly those operating outside their native areas. W hile certain targets, such as soviet collective farms and state grain collection points, were considered legitimate for rebel looting— all o f which fed Soviet characterizations o f the self-styled “parti­ sans” as “bandits”— the possibility o f rebel abuses against the local village com ­ munities meant that the Partisan Arm y had to consistently combat the damaging label o f “bandit” in order to maintain its authority among the rural population. This became particularly the case when the rebels tried to impose structure and discipline upon the movement in the new year. A proclamation to Partisan Arm y soldiers in January or February 1921 sought to remind rebels just how far the m ovem ent had progressed: Comrade partisans! Already six months have passed since we partisans launched our struggle for the complete liberation of the peasants and workers from oppression and violence and against the bloodthirsty aggressors [nasiVniki]— the robber-


The Partisan Countryside at War

Communists. In the space of six months we have accomplished much, and from all quarters of the working population hundreds and thousands of honorable fighters are joining us, standing in the ranks of our army and fighting for the achievement of our common goal in the interests of the entire working population and oppressed population. We remember, comrades, when we launched into the first days of our uprising with only twenty rifles, each with a mere five bullets to fire, and now what do we see before us: a large and well-equipped army, which has already delivered a mighty blow to our enemy and forcing them to reassess their position [zastavila ikh prizadumafsia] These words o f encouragement for the active partisans— an effort to situate their weeks and months o f limited fighting into a narrative context o f growing strength and dominance— were tempered by reminders o f the com m itm ent to a partner­ ship with the local population that had to be maintained for the m ovement to thrive: “ But always remember, comrades, that the population will only support the m odern [peredovyi] soldiers who strive with all their strength and ability to respect and help them with their needs and who do not allow into their ranks the thugs [nasiVniki] and looters who will violate [villagers’] rights and [steal] their hard-earned property.” Recognizing that incidents had become com mon in which rebel soldiers were stealing from villagers and making excessive demands upon them, often for nothing but personal gain and gratification, the proclam ation (signed by the Supreme Headquarters o f the Partisan Arm y and its political in­ structors) appealed for discipline in the ranks o f the rebels: This type of activity in our army is completely impermissible because it will only place us at odds with the working population and force us to abandon all our sacred visions of the liberation of the oppressed. We, the members of the Supreme Operational Headquarters and your political leaders, appeal to you, dear comrade partisans, with an urgent call to be honorable fighters and defenders of the rights of workers, to present yourselves before the population as the most discreet and veritable sons of our peasant revolution, and then people themselves will understand that we are truly not bandits, as the robber-Communists have labeled us, but are instead honorable fighters for the ideals of the oppressed.70 The authors o f this proclam ation called on partisans to police their fellow rebels and to report any who committed abuses against the local population. But the problem remained throughout the course o f the insurgency, regularly com ­ promising the authority o f the rebels.71 “ Order no. 1” o f the First Partisan Army,

The Partisan Countryside at War


issued on 1 January 1921, dealt precisely with the issue o f “banditry,” although it was m ainly concerned with the activities o f STKs and village-based guard de­ tachments. It threatened those who engaged in illegal activities, especially theft and looting, with arrest and trial before a “revolutionary arm y court.”72 W hile the Partisan A rm y had established procedures to deal with such crimes earlier in the year, documents detailing the punishments for specific infractions that re­ lated to the STKs and to the insurgency effort did not emerge until February 1921.73 The sparse docum ent that was distributed to Partisan Arm y units listed thirtyseven separate crimes and abuses, and it sought to regulate the conduct o f rebel soldiers as well as civilians, both o f which had a bearing on the military struggle. It lists such crimes as the black market trade in horses and guns by civilians along­ side acts such as cowardice (flight from batde) and illegal confiscations carried out by Partisan Arm y soldiers. The list o f crimes was most likely informed by im ­ mediate experience, as m any such acts had been reported by Partisan A rm y units and STKs; thus it constitutes a code o f punishments governed by contem porary circumstances rather than indicating m ore popular, deeply held notions o f jus­ tice. Punishments were principally corporal, although there were exceptions. For lesser offenses, such as the acquisition and consumption o f moonshine (samogon) b y rebel soldiers, the punishment (upon the second violation) was dem otion to sentry, which presumably carried with it lower status (an interesting consequence that is difficult to evaluate) and possibly lower benefits for one’s family. In cases o f severe crimes and repeat violations, the punishment could be death. A soldier who fled battle for a second time could expect to lose his life, as could one who killed in the course o f robbery. The most com m on form o f punishment, however, was flogging, and the num ber o f lashes ranged from fifteen to fifty according to the seriousness o f the crime and the num ber o f repeat offenses. Corporal pun­ ishment was both traditional and logical: while the use o f the lash was familiar to rural com munities from the (hated) practices o f the old regime, it was also one o f the few forms o f punishment available to Partisan Arm y leaders hoping to instill discipline within the ranks. A nd while inflicting corporal punishment and the threat o f execution provided fodder for later Soviet propagandists, these prac­ tices had m ore recent antecedents than the m odi operandi o f state officials serv­ ing the tsar.74 The courts o f the Partisan Arm y were com posed o f three judges, each devoted to this sole responsibility, and they were assisted by three others in charge o f in­ vestigating individual cases and docum enting decisions. It is difficult to deter­


The Partisan Countryside at War

m ine to what extent the population in rebel-held territory had confidence in the arm y courts, but the Partisan A rm y was evidently responsive to the complaints o f villagers raised against individuals and groups who abused power or engaged in sustained criminal activity.75Yet despite evidence that village communities had some confidence in the capacity o f the Partisan A rm y and the STKs to regulate the conduct o f its soldiers and members, the struggle with corruption and abuse o f power was constant. The corresponding struggle to protect these same com ­ munities against the abuses by Red Arm y “bandits” m ay have contributed to the effort to stay on the right side o f public opinion, but it also underscores the ex­ tent to which village communities continued to suffer depredations throughout the course o f the insurgency.

LIFE WITH THE PARTISAN ARMY Cultivating the confidence o f the partisan population extended beyond pure m a­ terial concerns. Ritual and sym bolic elements featured in efforts to instill disci­ pline within the rebel units and to tie them more closely to the defense o f their communities. Reclaiming the revolutionary high ground went beyond propaganda pronouncements to include the everyday trappings o f revolutionary culture. Par­ tisan A rm y units were reported as entering villages with banners containing fa­ miliar words, such as the PSRs long-standing slogan,“ In struggle you will secure your rights.” In one case, government agents reported that PSR representatives had managed to transport from M oscow an elaborate banner bearing this slogan em ­ broidered with gold thread and other flourishes that distinguished it from the more improvised banners typically displayed to village communities.76 More mundane designations o f revolutionary principle included the red ribbons that Partisan Arm y soldiers were reported to wear, as well as the singing o f the “ International” by soldiers as they entered villages.77 Such sym bolic elements were in particular evidence at funerals for fallen rebel soldiers. It was reported by STK members that entire communities turned out to participate in these rituals and that lengthy orations dwelled on the noble qualities o f the anti-Bolshevik struggle, something that situated the sacrifices made by individual families.78 Such displays were as much for the rebel soldiers in attendance as they were for the community, and once again, there are parallels with the Red Army, which conducted similar funerals for soldiers killed during the counterinsurgency and which were also occasions to in­ volve local communities in the broader campaign against the rebels.79 The sym bolic elements o f the rebel movement went beyond those that em-

The Partisan Countryside at War


phasized the bond between the rebels and the communities and the legitimacy o f the struggle with the Soviet regime. The establishment o f authority and hierar­ chy also drew heavily upon sym bolic projections o f power. As in the first weeks o f the rebellion, the display o f firearms was vital, both to achieve specific aims and more generally to establish an air o f authority. W hile a machine gun or light ar­ tillery gun was vitally im portant for rebel units in their interaction with village communities, rebel leaders and commanders were proud to brandish personal firearms, particularly pistols kept at the hip. Aleksandr A ntonov him self had two revolvers, one on each hip, which he was said never to be without.80Likewise, the trappings o f authority were found in the clothing worn by senior rebel leaders, especially the black leather jackets that had been the signature o f the Cheka agent since that organization’s formation.81 Uniforms were less com mon, and there was no established display o f rank, although one contem porary described in his memoirs a sort o f sedan chair that Antonov insisted upon traveling in with his personal guard that would clearly identify him as the grand leader o f the parti­ san m ovem ent.82 W hile this last claim appears dubious, there was nevertheless acute attention paid to the projection o f authority and power by leaders o f the insurgency. There was a strong element o f self-indulgence to this, as well as personal gratification accompanying the projection o f power always threatened to undermine the au­ thority and legitimacy o f the rebel leadership. Providing for the Partisan Arm y meant supporting the excesses o f individuals such as Aleksandr Antonov and Petr Tokmakov, whose entrance into a village brought with it long nights o f m usic and dancing. This m ay have created a m ystique that contributed to their au­ thority, or it m ay have “personalized” the rebel leaders as honest muzhiks. Either way, a carnival atmosphere frequendy accompanied their entourage. O ne Siberian wom an, Anastasiia Apollonovna D rigo-D rigina, a would-be actor and singer who had suffered multiple misfortunes before and after the rev­ olution and had been imprisoned on three separate occasions, traveled with the rebel leadership in Tam bov in the first months o f 1921. Having been on a train in January 1921 that was stopped and raided by rebels near Rtishchevo in Saratov Province, she was left without any m oney or belongings; thus with nothing to lose, she appealed directly to the rebel com mander on the scene, Petr Tokmakov. Tokmakov allowed her to travel with his entourage, and their relations quickly progressed: according to an autobiographical statement left by D rigo-Drigina in late 1921, Tokmakov asked her to m arry him soon after. Although she refused, she continued to travel with the rebels and perform ed at their parties when they stopped in villages or set up camp for the night. This continued for over three


The Partisan Countryside at War

m onths in 1921, after which D rigo-Drigina was “released” by Antonov personally (some weeks after Tomakov had died o f wounds) and placed in the custody o f an elderly couple in the village o f Kareevka, near Inzhavino, w hom he trusted to keep her safe.83 D rigo-Drigina was one o f several wom en who either traveled with the rebel leadership or were invited to their soirees during the height o f the insurgency. One Cheka investigator, surveying the collected testimonies o f village wom en who claimed to have had relations with A ntonov but w ho could provide little useful intelligence about him while he was still at large, commented sardonically in the margins o f the testimony o f one such woman: “ It is obvious that A ntonov would not be able to speak in confidence with each and every one o f his lovers, seeing as he had at least one in practically every village in the region.” 84 It was a measure o f the extent to which these men lived for the moment, while at the same time leading a m ovem ent that struggled to project hope for the future.

PARTISAN ARMY PROPAGANDA If the arrival o f a unit o f the Partisan Arm y brought with it demands for fresh horses, food, and quarters, as well as an element o f excitement and even carnival, com m unities were also frequently subjected to the political w ork o f Partisan A rm y members whose task it was to sustain the message o f the insurgents. STK committees in the countryside were most frequently involved in practical matters relating to the insurgency and maintenance o f the Partisan Arm y’s operations. They were less involved in propagating the message o f the insurgents. This was the w ork o f the Partisan Arm y itself, particularly the political workers that ac­ companied its constituent regiments and battalions. The goals o f the insurgency, summarized in the STK program, remained the centerpiece o f interactions be­ tween these political agitators and the village communities, but as the insurgency established itself in the countryside o f southern Tambov Province, the necessity o f providing inform ation for village communities that justified their continued involvement and assumed enthusiasm for the rebel m ovem ent grew more im ­ portant. Progress reports, not only on activities in the province itself, but also on other fronts in the popular struggle against the Soviet regime, became a prom i­ nent com ponent o f rebel propaganda in 1921, when the insurgency was its height and support was at its peak. The materials o f the Partisan Arm y regiments attest to the attention paid to

The Partisan Countryside at War


political w ork among the population, as repeated visits to villages within the area o f operations for a given regiment brought successive speeches by rebel agitators on familiar themes, such as the Constituent Assembly, the end to grain requisi­ tions and the restoration o f free trade, and the end o f the arbitrary and abusive rule o f the commissars and Com m unist Party members that w ould be achieved when the Soviet governm ent was toppled.85 O ne sum m ary o f seized Partisan A rm y materials produced by the Tenth Volche-Karanchan regiment confirmed that m any o f the documents concerned the “political w ork conducted by the p o ­ litical bureau o f the regiment, including the organization o f mass meetings o f partisan soldiers as well as am ong the village population.” As an example, the sum m ary cited one such meeting in the area o f N ovo-Volskii on 15 March 1921, in which “a m ajority o f the local population participated.” The Cheka investiga­ tor described the meeting: Orators who delivered speeches included Luchinin [Aleksei Gavrilovich— adjutant in the regiment], “Bat’ko,” Parshin [the political chief of the regiment], “Shuba” [another political worker], and others, all of whom described for the assembled citizens the difficult situation that the homeland [rodina] finds itself in thanks to the three-year rule of the Communists, who have brought the country to the point of death and destruction, and they called upon the peasants to overcome this situation through concerted and effective organization, which will hasten the moment of victory over the usurpers of the people, the Communists-Jews.86 In repeated visits to villages, rebels continued to underscore these basic themes as part o f the basic routine o f Partisan A rm y units in the countryside. A rticu­ lating and reinforcing popular grievances and defining the objectives o f the in­ surgency were central to interactions between the Partisan A rm y and the village communities. Just as the Partisan A rm y leadership displayed a thirst for inform ation re­ garding developments in other parts o f Russia to provide a context for their own rebellion, that same quality o f information became central to the sustained over­ tures to the partisan population in the spring o f 1921: Comrade peasants! The Bolsheviks seized power at the point of a rifle . . . then began their vile and bloody rule. . . in which they oppressed us and stole from us from every angle, leaving us without food and without livestock. . . . The Communists never talk about freedom anymore, except insofar as the Communist levelling of all classes has left everyone without freedom and equally at risk of


The Partisan Countryside at War

oppression and execution, and this has left us peasants with few options, yet a great many peasants have already begun [to rise up], as the Communists themselves write in their newspapers that rebellions have broken out in seventeen provinces.87 Appeals to the rural population and to active rebels integrated the “ intelligence” regarding events in other parts o f Soviet Russia (and beyond), feeding back the inform ation the people in the villages had themselves gathered. The message was one o f progress in the anti-Soviet struggle, o f vitality in a m ovem ent that ex­ tended beyond the province, situating events in Tambov within a wider picture o f violent opposition to the regime: Comrade partisans! The turning point has been reached. Our strength grows with each passing day. The power of the Communists is melting away like the snow. Every day new villages, towns, and even entire provinces, are breaking away from Communist rule. It was not long ago that the authority of the Communists had spread throughout the central provinces and other places, such as the Ukraine, the Volga, a portion of the Caucasus (a large part of the Caucasus had never known, and never would know, Communist authority), and, as if this were not enough, Siberia. But now the entire south of Russia, including the Caucasus, has been engulfed in a general uprising, the Ukraine is routing the Bolsheviks, and in Siberia, according to the accounts of these same Communists, Semenov is once again up to no good. In the central provinces, it has been almost one year and Communists everywhere have not found themselves respite, and, according to official information, once Communist cities, such as Kronstadt and Petersburg, have chased away the Communists and have established their own rule, the same type of rule for which we have fought for more than seven months, and for which we will continue to fight.88 Such claims were the subject o f speeches, proclamations, and “circulars” distrib­ uted among the STKs by the Partisan Army.89 One political worker told investi­ gators, following his capture in February 1921, that he had been involved in m any such meetings in villages in which he w ould describe the range o f opposition to the Soviet regime, from worker demonstrations to rural insurgencies, and that “without question, these [popular] armies w ould soon be unified with our very own Partisan Army.”90 Such descriptions tapped into a narrative understanding o f collective resistance, one that not only identified the worthiness o f similar re­ bellions ongoing against the Soviet state, but also drew upon a continuity with the revolution o f 1917 and the inherent value o f its popular, “partisan” defense against the “Com m unist usurpers.”91

The Partisan Countryside at War


The veracity o f such claims would have been at their peak in the first months o f 1921, when the rebellion was at its strongest in the province and popular o p ­ position to the Soviet regime, particularly in M oscow and Petrograd, had pro­ voked a crisis for the Com m unist Party and the Soviet leadership. O ne o f the many wom en to have left statements regarding their personal encounters with Aleksandr A ntonov and his headquarters noted that one o f A ntonov’s closest companions was a Com m unist Party member who was sympathetic to the rebels and who frequently spoke with authority regarding events in Moscow, describ­ ing them as signaling the im minent collapse o f the Soviet government. Partisan Arm y leaders similarly received com munications from the Soviet capital, keenly following developments there.92 Given the political circumstances in January and February 1921, it is not difficult to appreciate just how short a step it was for rebel commanders, soldiers, and civilians alike to place their own insurgency at the heart o f these events, serving as an inspiration for others just as it legitimized their own continued campaign against the regime in Tam bov Province. The in­ vocation o f outside developments served as an indication o f strength— that the movement continued to move and that sacrifices and risks would produce the promised result— and it had yet to emerge as an indicator o f weakness.

Soviet investigators, after the insurgency had ended, w ould attest to the strength o f the STK network— how elaborate it was, how it interacted with the Partisan Army, and m ost im portant how much support the committees enjoyed am ong the local population. Despite the form al responsibilities that the STK committees possessed, the key to the confidence that they and their members en­ joyed was probably attributable to their local character and their popular selec­ tion, m uch as m any o f the early soviets enjoyed popularity and legitimacy before the Com m unist Party sought to make those institutions reliable instruments o f central administration. In a similar way, the STKs, like the early soviets, enjoyed legitimacy and confidence in large part because they made a m inimal im posi­ tion upon the everyday lives o f village communities. Their responsibilities were principally oriented toward the support o f the Partisan Army, and the most oner­ ous demands that were made upon villagers— such as those for fresh horses and for food— were occasioned by the arrival o f rebel units, rather than a constant fea­ ture o f life in the partisan countryside.93 Such arrivals were m ore frequent in some villages than in others, and as the conflict wore on, m aintaining popular support for the insurgency would demand new strategies o f the rebel leadership, both in its practical interactions with the village communities, and in the mes-


The Partisan Countryside at War

sage it brought regarding the status and direction o f the anti-Bolshevik m ove­ ment. Creating a context for understanding the experience o f collective resistance was a dynam ic process, one that involved pragmatic and practical elements o f integration, as well as symbolic and ritual ones. Solidarity, and the “partisan” col­ lective identity that broadened the appeal o f the m ovem ent, could not be as­ sumed by Partisan A rm y and STK leaders, as the struggle to manage relations with village communities and with rebel soldiers demonstrates. Instead, sustain­ ing the movement involved a constant negotiation o f material and environmen­ tal constraints, popular perceptions, and subjective experiences that prom oted the prim acy o f the rebellion and its objectives in the experience o f village com ­ munities. W hat is more, the process involved an adversary that was emerging from its own transitional phase to engage the struggle with the rebellion on all fronts.

CLA IM IN G THE I N I T I A T I V E Anxiety,




Oppo Change

Vasil’evich Pavlov, an experienced career military officer and

former divisional commander in the Red Army, arrived in Tambov on 5 January

1921 to assume overall command of the counterinsurgency effort. Following the investigations conducted by the VNUS senior staff in late December, in which the

local Tambov leadership was chastised once again for their mismanagement of the military resources at their disposal, as well as for their overall incompetence in confronting the challenge o f armed rural rebels, Pavlov entered the scene with the full backing o f Moscow to establish state control over the strategic situation in the province.1 Mindful of the complications that the Russian spring would pose for the government’s effort to regain control over the territory— not only the effects o f the thaw on roads used by state troops but also the improved cover to be exploited in the forests and swamps by armed insurgents— Pavlov was promised significant armed reinforcements to replace the patchwork force already active in the province, and the Tambov commander was permitted a direct line of com­ munication with Moscow and Red Army headquarters (g la v ko m ), rather than answering first to regional headquarters in Orel. The deployment of combat-ready



Claiming the Initiative

and adequately supplied troops to the province was acknowledged as critical, as even the most savage critics o f the provincial authorities acknowledged that the forces at their disposal in the final months o f 1920 had been less than expedient. Having been familiarized with the challenge that confronted him in Tambov, Pavlov offered his reflections on the situation in the province to his Red A rm y colleagues in Orel less than a week after arriving. Beginning with the now customary acknowledgment that the rebel Antonov and his army o f followers had to be taken seriously as a military foe, Pavlov elaborated on the theme with a certain indulgence:

The latest information processed by the [Red Army] command indicates that in terms of scouting, organization of defense, and other measures developed by the bandits, what we are dealing with is an organization that is operating in a customary military fashion, and without doubt the bandits have in their midst a variety of specialists familiar with military affairs. They possess an excellent knowledge of the terrain, their command center stays on top of developments through a network of informants, and the region provides them with rich resources that have facilitated the bandits' success, and with each passing day the movement expands, reaching a threatening scale.2

Explaining that in major portions o f the province Soviet power existed only in administrative centers where significant numbers o f troops were perm anently stationed, Pavlov condensed his list o f priorities to two basic points: “ First, destroy the individual armed bands, and second, take measures toward the ultimate military occupation o f the region, to last for as long as necessary, because at the moment Soviet power in the districts does not possess a strong and close connection with the population.” 3 The notion o f occupation as an objective o f the counterinsurgency effort in Tam bov had grown in currency since December 1920.4 It was the first o f Petr Kameron’s recommendations in his report for V N U S in late December, and the word also featured prominently in Kornev’s accompanying report to the Central Com mittee o f the Com m unist Party.5 Occupying the region dominated by the rebels at the turn o f the year meant flooding it with governm ent troops and establishing a stable military presence in major villages and strategic points; this would deprive the rebels o f any safe haven in the populated areas, as well as deny them the kind o f low-risk attacks they had thrived upon during the preceding months. The shortage o f reliable troops during the second half o f 1920, and their poor deployment by local authorities, had effectively abdicated authority in the countryside o f southern Tambov to the Partisan Army, an observation repeatedly

Claiming the Initiative


made in com m unications from the local adm inistrations in the uezds o f the province during the final weeks o f 1920. Attempts to reorganize soviet adminis­ tration in individual localities had been brief, as such efforts, without accompany­ ing armed security, only provided easy targets for rebel units or even armed groups outside the purview o f the Partisan Army. Restoring control over the strategic situation in the province meant creating conditions in which military operations and a stable armed presence facilitated and complemented the reestablishment o f local government and, with that, Pavlov’s “strong and close connection” between “ Soviet power” and the civilian population. Recognition o f the complementary relationship between local administration and m ilitary counterinsurgency was the underlying message o f the “occupation” strategy as articulated by m ilitary commanders. It was as much a recognition o f the “weakness” o f administration in Tam bov as o f the inadequate quality and quantity o f troops fighting the rebels. The first step toward the realization o f “occupation,” as emphasized in Pavlov’s report, was to deploy more, and more effective, troops to the province as the struggle against the rebels was reconfigured once again. Steps in this direction had already been taken. Battle-tried Red Arm y infantry and cavalry brigades were assigned at the end o f December, and over 300 Com m unist Party members from units o f the Tenth Special A rm y joined 300 other Com munist Party members drawn from the Red Arm y’s Political Depart­ ment to augment discipline within the units assigned to the anti-Antonov front. Arm ored train units, with multiple m ounted artillery and machine guns, were also earmarked for deployment to Tambov at the end o f 1920, part o f the effort to improve the Red Arm y’s ability to respond quickly to threats from a secure base in the administrative centers o f Tambov as well as to secure the major railway stations in the south o f the province.6 Such deployments, by the end o f January, nearly trebled the available armed government forces in Tambov. At the beginning o f the year, the Orel commander, Skudr, arranged for the creation o f distinct m ilitary sectors to divide up the terri­ tory o f counterinsurgency operations.7 Eventually, as the Red Arm y presence in Tambov grew, there would be eight military sectors, each with its own command headquarters and occupation forces distributed within the territory. The creation o f discrete military sectors within the zone o f the insurgency imposed a measure o f structure on Red Arm y operations at the time, but the effects o f this restructuring were slow to become manifest, given the general state o f disarray in Soviet military forces during the chaotic process o f demobilization set into m otion at the end o f 1920.8Troop increases in the province in the first weeks o f 1921 were partially offset by the number o f Red Arm y soldiers who, in the course o f a hasty demobilization


Claiming the Initiative

campaign in December and January, fell in with the Partisan Arm y upon returning to their native villages. The deployment o f more units to the province may have promised rapid results on the ground for observers within official circles in Tambov, but the shift in the balance o f forces in the conflict with the Partisan Arm y remained a development very much confined to the paperwork o f the Red Arm y command staff in Tambov, Orel, and Moscow. The same problems that had plagued the counterinsurgency effort in late 1920, namely, troops o f questionable reliability and small, poorly defended deployments, continued to plague government forces in Tambov at the start o f the new year.9While some regular Red Arm y troops were brought to the province, many o f the forces that were assigned to Tambov in early 1921 were former VN U S units, which were frequently filled with “second-chance men” who had previously deserted and who were undertrained, poorly supplied, and unaccustomed to counterinsurgency operations.10 O ccupation as a guiding strategy enjoyed currency outside m ilitary circles principally because o f the implication that it would signal a political and material commitment by M oscow to resolve the conflict in the province once and for all. This was the meaning o f occupation for many in the local administration and the Tambov Communist Party, who had felt either abandoned by the central govern­ ment or betrayed by those officials in the provincial capital who repeatedly supplied the Kremlin with misleadingly reassuring assessments o f the situation in Tambov in the final months o f 1920. From quite early on, officials in Tambov expressed their conviction that the insurgency would be suppressed once regular Red Arm y forces were deployed to Tambov in adequate numbers. The failure o f such a decisive deployment to the province provoked a strong mixture o f anger and genuine fear, particularly among state and party officials closest to the fighting. At the turn o f the year, local governm ent and party officials in the uezd towns continued to produce damning critiques o f the conduct o f the counterinsurgency campaign, and these were accompanied by alarming reports o f conditions in the towns and villages that were isolated or overrun by the insurgency. In Borisoglebsk, in the southernmost tip o f Tambov Province, uezd officials found themselves effectively blockaded and under siege by rebels in early January 1921, preventing the delivery o f any food supplies and threatening an assault on the town at a tim e when government defenses were understood to be woefully inadequate. Officials there had been composing telegrams and reports to provincial and central governmental offices since the final weeks o f 1920, demanding that “real forces” be sent to the uezd, and to the province generally.11 Reinforcements were promised in early January by Red Arm y commanders in Tambov, including one armored train group that, upon its approach to Borisoglebsk, encountered

Claiming the Initiative


intense fighting that may have caught the attention o f the bulk o f organized rebel forces in the region. When the assault on Borisoglebsk was made on 23 January by the Partisan Arm y’s Sixth Volche-Karachan Regiment (reportedly numbering a paltry 250 m en on horseback), the lim ited armed forces at the disposal o f the town, formed around highly motivated Red Arm y cavalry cadets, was sufficient to defend Borisoglebsk.12 W hile almost completely lacking in coordination and planning, this was the first attempt by the rebels to storm one o f the uezd towns in the province that represented the last redoubts o f the Soviet government in southern Tambov. Fear o f being overrun by the rebels was a constant preoccupation o f government and party officials in vulnerable uezd towns such as Kirsanov and Borisoglebsk, where the insurgency had already established effective control over most o f the countryside.13 Even if this level o f distress was not replicated in other uezd towns affected by the insurgency, the degenerating material conditions at the height o f the Russian winter combined with the instability in the countryside to create a shared anxiety among uezd officials that defined their assessments o f the political situation in the towns.

PANIC IN THE UEZDS If the insurgency had accomplished one o f its objectives by the end o f 1920, it was the de facto cessation o f state grain requisitioning in the territory o f the conflict. W hile the need to terminate the provocative activities o f the requisition squads was widely recognized, the true underlying reason for the effective cessation o f procurement efforts in southern Tambov was the insecurity o f local uezd officials, who withdrew procurement squads from the countryside to help defend the towns against attack by the insurgents. Requisition efforts did not come to a complete halt in the province, however. In the north, unaffected by the violence o f the antonovshchina, procurement efforts were intensified to compensate for province­ wide shortfalls, but the yield from such intensified efforts was minimal as grain production was truly concentrated only in the south o f Tambov.14 The drive to collect grain from the villages in the areas that constituted the periphery o f the conflict— parts o f Morshansk, Kozlov, and Usman uezds— was unevenly pursued by government officials who were concerned about their own safety as well as the long-term stability o f the countryside they administered. The same tensions that had plagued procurem ent efforts in earlier campaigns, between the Food Commissariat on one side and the local soviet administrations and Com munist


Claiming the Initiative

Party organizations on the other, continued in early 1921, although the objective difficulties o f conducting requisitioning in areas contiguous to the insurgency prompted caution even among the target-obsessed authorities in the Food C om ­ missariat.15 Frequently, however, this caution was easily overcome, particularly in areas that had previously been under rebel control and where the continued demand for grain collection combined with an evidently strong desire to punish villages that were believed to harbor pro-rebel sympathies. In such cases, the requisition squads served as the first agents o f occupation, after a given village had been “liberated” by the army. The material situation in the towns— particularly the larger ones on the pe­ riphery o f the conflict, such as Kozlov and Morshansk— had understandably de­ generated rapidly as the reserves o f food were quickly consumed in the early winter o f 1920-1921. In Kozlov, with its relatively large population o f railroad workers and substantial m ilitary garrison, the government had abandoned its effort to ration bread in recognition that the black market had become the only reliable source o f food for townspeople. Local Com m unist Party members saw that the marginalization o f the municipal government because o f the challenges confronting its administration and the population was linked to the increasing defiance o f government-imposed curfews and other public order measures, par­ ticularly by railroad workers. Rather than witnessing heightened tensions between the town and country as the provisions crisis took hold, Kozlov officials reported widespread recognition that the situation in the villages— where grain was in short supply and where bloodshed was always threatened— was much worse.16 In M orshansk the same recognition o f grain shortages in the countryside prompted uezd officials to cease efforts at requisitioning grain, opting instead to seek relief from the food crisis by confiscating livestock, including draft animals, from the surrounding countryside for slaughter.17 As in Kozlov, a hungry m unic­ ipal population was becoming increasingly difficult to manage in Morshansk. Both towns were reporting problems containing desertion from local garrisons when food shortages, rumors o f the rebellion in the surrounding countryside, and low temperatures cut into the morale o f the reserve soldiers.18 Efforts continued to transfer Tambov natives from the garrisons to assignments outside the province, and local M ilitary Commissariat officials also attempted to “dilute” the potential for disruptions by forming mixed units o f Tambov natives and non-natives in the hope o f breaking up the solidarity that was believed to intensify the “pull” exer­ cised by the Partisan Arm y and the rebellion in the countryside.19 But the poten­ tial for serious disruptions among the soldier population, as with prisoners and other discrete groups that suffered the material shortages even more acutely, re­

Claiming the Initiative


m ained a prom inent concern expressed in the regular updates drafted by the Com munist Party organizations from Morshansk and Kozlov.20 W hile reports o f outright “counterrevolutionary” organization within the towns were rare, insulating the town population from the restive countryside and limiting their familiarity with the works o f the Partisan Army, the STK, and the man Antonov would be far more difficult if civilians were forced to venture out to the villages for food.21 M ore im portant, however, the fact that people in the towns were forced to supplement their diet with the dreaded “surrogates” baked into the bread or boiled in the soup forced local officials to worry about the preser­ vation o f order in the towns. Having already endured one attack by the Partisan Army, Borisoglebsk remained in many ways the most isolated o f the towns caught in the territory o f the insurgency, and the fact that this translated into a de facto siege that cut o ff food supplies produced a continued stream o f telegrams to Tam­ bov and M oscow demanding action. There, officials in the uezd soviet executive committee and local Com m unist Party reported that all the orphanages had been shut in the new year, as had all the public cafeterias. Rations had ceased in Janu­ ary as the town had no reserves o f grain, and all reports pointed to the appearance o f hunger and starvation in the surrounding villages, as well:

At the present time any talk of systematic work in the uezd is impossible and will remain impossible so long as only some sixteen villages can be said to fall under our influence. In light of the threats that face us, we find it necessary to declare that unless [the Tambov provincial soviet] takes decisive measures to save Borisoglebsk from hunger and, following from this, takes quick and decisive steps to end the rebellion, then we will be forced once again to send a delegate to deliver a report directly to the center and to Sovnarkom and to appeal for help regarding these issues.22

W hen the deployment o f more troops to the Tambov front in 1921 was accompa­ nied by the assignment o f scores o f Com m unist Party members to the province, this was as much to control discipline problems in the army as to control the grow­ ing panic being expressed in the local administrations caught in the territory o f the rebellion. The level o f dispirit is understandable, owing to the strain o f the constant threat o f armed assault by rebels and the sense o f abandonment by au­ thorities in the provincial capital and Moscow; the pain o f seeing party colleagues and soviet workers fall victim to often extreme violence committed by a signifi­ cant portion o f the population with a profound hatred o f the Soviet regime; and the difficulty o f being unable to assist Com m unist Party refugees from the coun­ tryside suffering the food shortages that were shared by nearly the entire town


Claiming the Initiative

population. The sense that this situation was not o f their making and beyond their control affected virtually every local administration and Com m unist Party or­ ganization in southern Tambov Province. Needing to defend their own decisions and reputations, officials in the provincial administration and Tambov C om m u­ nist Party organization continued to deflect attention from such protests, and in the first half o f January 1921 a party committee was formed in Tambov to deal with the “hysteria” that had come to afflict the party membership and soviet ad­ ministrations in the localities.23 In fact, this constituted one o f the rare initiatives taken by the Communist Party in the province to manage the political situation. There had been only limited efforts channeled into propaganda, and the job o f combating the Partisan Arm y and STK on the military and political fronts was left to the Red Arm y and VN U S commanders.24By the end o f 1920, the involvement o f officials from Tambov in the counterinsurgency effort was largely marginal, as military officials appointed by Orel and M oscow assumed direct control over operations. The only branch o f the provincial government that was not fully marginalized during this period was the Food Commissariat, whose own operations in the past had been carried out with a controversially strong measure o f autonomy, and which was now becom ing more closely integrated with the Red Arm y as the troop presence in the southern uezds o f the province was dramatically increased.25

THE PLENIPOTENTIARY COMMISSION AND THE END OF REQUISITIONING The marginalization o f provincial officials was not, however, entirely a result o f the logic o f centralization that lay at the heart o f the escalating counterinsurgency campaign in 1921. The provincial administration had, since at least the spring o f 1920, been politically divided, with a strong clique o f native officials standing in opposition to a small cohort o f “outsiders” assigned to positions o f responsibility in the province. This basic tension had isolated the two high-profile apparatchiki in the province, the chairman o f the Tambov soviet executive committee, A. G. Shlikhter, and his close associate, V. N. Meshcheriakov, who had served as Shlikhter s assistant (zamestiteV) on the soviet executive and as head o f the Tambov C om ­ munist Party organization in late 1920. The “intrigues, machinations, and virtual blood feuds” that Vladim ir Antonov-Ovseenko had described following his first spell in Tambov in late 1919 and early 1920 had been brought to the surface as a consequence o f the prolonged insurgency and had rendered the provincial gov­

Claiming the Initiative


ernment and party organization ineffective and functionally paralyzed as the in­ surgency entered its sixth full m onth.26 The essential conflict between local officials and centrally appointed outsiders was one that broadly characterized relations between Moscow and provincial gov­ ernments throughout the latter stages o f the civil war, but m ore generally the themes o f centralization and dem ocracy came to dom inate a range o f centerperiphery tensions within the Soviet Republic, from relations between Moscow and non-Russian territories o f the former empire to those between M oscow and the trade unions. Ironically, high-profile outsiders had arrived in Tambov in the second half o f 1920 in an effort to defuse center-periphery tensions within the province itself. The extended fallout from the calamitous cavalry raid in August 1919 by the W hite General M am ontov included a bitter conflict between party officials in Tambov with those in the uezds, particularly the party organization in Kozlov, which had been briefly occupied during the White cavalry raid and suf­ fered heavily in terms o f lives lost and property destroyed.27 In the second half o f 1920, the two main antagonists were removed from the province: the head o f the Com m unist Party organization, B. A. Vasil’ev, was dispatched to serve in the Smolensk party organization, and the Kozlov party chief, Vitolin, was reassigned to the military front against the last White forces in the South. Shlikhter, an old Bolshevik and party expert in agricultural matters, was brought into the province along with Meshcheriakov, another specialist in rural affairs, to serve (in the pop­ ular phrasing o f the day) as a “buffer” between uezd-level party organizations and the provincial party committee.28 Although the Kozlov party committee was broken up, with eleven o f its m em ­ bers reassigned to other organizations within the province, the man chosen to head the Com m unist Party in that uezd nevertheless emerged as the prim ary “ intriguer” against the newly arrived Shlikhter and Meshcheriakov. In this, N. M. Nemtsov was joined by other party leaders from the uezd organizations, as well as by the new secretary o f the provincial party organization, B. Ia. Pinson. Their dispute followed the contours o f internal party debates about the feared “b u ­ reaucratization” o f the Com m unist Party and the restrictions on internal party “democracy” ; at the Tenth Party Conference in Tambov in late January 1921, one o f their number from the Morshansk organization, Lotikov, expressed his desire to see all members o f the “ intelligentsia” removed from party and government posts and enrolled in trade schools to learn a practical craft. In a manner that echoed the ideas being expressed by members o f the Workers’ Opposition in the central party organizations, like-minded officials in Tambov at the same confer­


Claiming the Initiative

ence called for replacing party professionals with simple workers in the leading party organizations in the province. In Tambov, such opposition to “bureaucratization” was focused principally on individuals such as Shlikhter and Meshcheriakov and what they represented to local officials. As such, the opposition could assume many forms as long as its principal targets remained in the crosshairs. The Tenth Party Conference in Tambov coincided with a period o f open factional struggle within the party regarding the “governmentalization” o f the trade unions and the “militarization” o f labor.29The open campaigning by leading members o f the factions involved in this contro­ versy in the first months o f 1921 brought distinguished visitors to Tambov in a way the province had not enjoyed since the first days o f “Soviet power” in 1918.30 The star guest at the Tenth Party Conference in Tambov was Nikolai Bukharin, who arrived to lobby members o f the provincial party committee and conference delegates to support the centralizing policies advocated by the “ Trotskyist” fac­ tion. Bukharin was not only permitted to read a speech on the subject to the as­ sembled delegates (a rebuttal was offered by the m uch less famous local trade unions leader), but even given the privilege o f delivering the closing address. But in spite o f these advantages, the delegates were not sufficiently swayed to advocate the leftist platform, voting by a considerable margin to adopt the more moderate “ Leninist” approach to the trade unions question.31 However, Bukharin’s presence in Tambov did galvanize the localist clique in the provincial party committee, whose own deliberations with Bukharin on the trade unions question produced a majority in favor o f the Trotskyist line, with the defeated moderate platform represented, most significantly, by the party chair­ man, Meshcheriakov. The actual vote was exceptionally close (six votes to five), but the ramifications were considerable, for the new party committee elected at the time o f the Tenth Conference did not include Meshcheriakov. He was ousted as party chairman, replaced by one o f the prime movers in this minor palace coup, Nikolai M ikhailovich Nemstov. The open campaigning by the factions engaged in the trade unions contro­ versy saw leading faction members from M oscow dispatched to the provinces in tim e for local party conferences and congresses to convene, and it was only through a complication involving delays on the railway line that one o f the main representatives o f the Leninist faction was not present at the Tenth Conference in Tambov to offer a high-profile rebuttal to Com rade Bukharin. Instead, A. V. Lu­ nacharsky arrived in Tambov one day after the conference and was relieved to learn that the damage to their campaign caused by this delay had not been as sig­ nificant as feared. Lunacharsky’s was the second visit by a prestigious Com munist

Claiming the Initiative


Party member to Tambov in only a matter o f days, yet the reception he received was noticeably different from that extended to Bukharin. In his report on his brief stay in Tambov, Lunacharsky noted that the members o f the new Tambov party leadership were outwardly warm in their welcome to the commissar for public education, although the sincerity o f their welcome he believed to be paper-thin. In his first formal encounter with the new leadership at the Com m unist Party fraction meeting on the eve o f the provincial Congress o f Soviets, Lunacharsky re­ ported that he was treated to an “onslaught” o f abuse and “heretical broadsides” by Nemstov and Pinson, and to a lesser extent from VasiTev, who had returned to Tambov just before the Tenth Conference in January.32The opinions expressed by these individuals were largely in keeping with the antibureaucracy, antistate line that had animated party opposition in the provinces since 1919 with the emer­ gence o f the Democratic Centralists. Lunacharsky wrote that the experience o f the meeting with the Tambov Communists demonstrated “what is undermining our party in certain corners: specifically, the disdainful attitude o f some toward so­ viet work, which is considered on the whole to be morally and politically inferior to the ‘pure’ work o f the party.”33 Despite making some progress in his efforts to promote the Leninist platform on the trade unions issue, Lunacharsky nevertheless left Tambov with a distinctly negative opinion o f the local leadership. In the wake o f the factional meeting at­ tended on his first day in the province, Lunacharsky described the new chairman o f the Tambov party organization, Nemtsov, as being “ in no way suitable for the position o f chairman due to his extreme partisan opinions, awkward conduct, and his muddled and ignorant mind.” 34At the time o f the Seventh Tambov C o n ­ gress o f Soviets, held almost immediately after the provincial party conference, Lunacharsky met with Shlikhter, a long-time acquaintance, who further briefed him on the political climate in the province.35 Understandably, Shlikhter provided a downbeat characterization o f his situation, emphasizing how, when he first ar­ rived in the province nearly one year before, he had been greeted as a m inor celebrity (Shlikhter had served, very briefly, as a people's commissar in 1917), yet now, mainly owing to the intrigues o f particular individuals in the party organi­ zation, his situation was growing difficult to endure. Shlikhter told Lunacharsky that his close associate, Meshchceriakov, had already been lobbying for some time for a transfer out o f the province, a request that looked increasingly likely to be satisfied in light o f recent developments in the provincial party organization.36 Lunacharsky sought to reassure Shlikhter, emphasizing that those seeking his ouster were men o f limited abilities and intellect. Yet in answer to this, Shlikhter pressed for Lunacharsky to recommend to M oscow that civilian authority in the

i 62

Claiming the Initiative

province be suspended and all administration handed over to a revolutionary committee or some form o f local dictatorship that would not only put an end to political intriguing, but also place the administration o f the province back on a stable footing. In his report on this exchange, Lunacharsky fell short o f giving his wholehearted endorsement o f such a plan, and in so doing acknowledged that Shlikhter was not above making his own share o f errors and misjudgments. Shlikhter’s words on the benefits o f suspending local, civilian control over provin­ cial administration in Tambov are not likely to have been private, incidental thoughts. Given the speed with which such developments took place, they were more likely to have been shared with other senior party and state officials. They were still not enough, though, to prevent Shlikhter from losing his post as chair­ man



Tambov soviet executive committee after his opponents managed to orchestrate a reelection for the post, which was secured by Andrei Sergeevich Lavrov, one o f Nem stovs allies. Lunacharsky left Tambov on 2 February 1921. However, his train was forced to return briefly after it was learned that rebels had attacked the railway station at Rtishchevo, blocking Lunacharsky’s path to Saratov, the next destination on his whistle-stop tour. The setback served as a reminder o f the fact that outside the provincial capital, and beyond the political infighting that had paralyzed the state administration and party in Tambov, there was an anti-Soviet insurgency raging. In fact, it is remarkable that, judging from his own account, the only mom ent at which Lunacharsky received a briefing on the conflict with the Partisan Arm y was when the commissar for enlightenment visited Com mander Pavlov at the army headquarters in Tambov to conduct a telegraphic exchange with Stalin in Moscow to report on the outcom e o f the provincial congress. Lunacharsky admitted to having little interest or expertise in military affairs, and he did not relay much in­ formation on Pavlov’s im promptu report except to say that Pavlov struck him as a capable and intelligent individual, “although not without a certain measure o f melancholy.” This final impression was most likely informed by Pavlov’s words regarding the state o f affairs in Tambov in which he emphasized the com plica­ tions caused by the political wrangling within the provincial administration. Still, he nevertheless expressed some confidence in the ability o f the Red Arm y to de­ feat the rebels.37 Yet the fact that the insurgency had been relegated to the back­ ground during the intense round o f political intriguing that accompanied the conference season in Tambov not only indicates the degree to which local politics had become distorted and blinkered in the province.38 It can also be taken as ev­

Claiming the Initiative


idence that the state and party in Tambov had effectively lost control over the po­ litical situation.39 In fact, at the time o f Lunacharsky’s departure, Moscow was already engrossed in discussions regarding strategies for resolving the problems surrounding the cam ­ paign in Tambov. When Bukharin returned from his own brief visit to Tambov, he delivered a report to the Com munist Party Politburo on the situation in the province in which he highlighted several issues that required action, particularly regarding relations with the rural population in the province and the evident ten­ sions that were preventing the local Com munist Party and administration from playing a constructive role in resolving the conflict. Regarding the latter, the Polit­ buro resolved to establish, under the authority o f VTsIK, a plenipotentiary com ­ mission that upon arrival in the province would assume overall control over civilian government and the local Communist Party organization. This was, broadly speak­ ing, the kind o f arrangement that Shlikhter had recommended to Lunacharsky, but the most important facet o f the Politburo plan was the appointment o f a trusted “outsider” to take control o f provincial affairs and assure that the operations o f the party and state administration were effectively geared toward the speedy resolu­ tion o f the conflict in southern Tambov. As such, the Politburo turned to a trusted hand who had previously assumed somewhat similar responsibilities in the wake o f M am ontov’s raid in Tambov, Vladim ir Antonov-Ovseenko. W hen he received the telegram from the party secretariat regarding the post­ ing in Tam bov in early February 1921, Antonov-Ovseenko was assigned to the seemingly unglam orous task o f organizing networks o f sowing committees in Perm Province, part o f the Soviet government’s final attempt to reverse the down­ ward trend in agricultural production within the context o f the civil war grain collection (razverstka) policy.40But Antonov-Ovseenko’s familiarity with the op­ erations o f the sowing committees project may have been seen as another advan­ tage in addition to his familiarity with the province and its tangled local politics. One o f the main objectives set in the course o f the Politburo deliberations on the situation in Tambov was to revive the local econom y and appeal to the civilian population Concerns over the upcoming harvest were shared by both government officials and village communities as the spring sowing season approached, and those pop­ ular concerns were understood as an opportunity for the government to grant concessions and utilize the resources at its disposal to undermine support for the rebels. Not only was Tambov to receive a new “dictator” in Antonov-Ovseenko, accompanied by a number o f other trusted party activists, to oversee the adm in­

i 64

Claiming the Initiative

istration o f the province; the Politburo also instructed senior members, including Bukharin, Preobrazhenskii, Kamenev, and Tsiurupa, to consider measures to allevi­ ate the difficult economic situation confronting the rural communities o f Tambov and to draft a declaration regarding concessions to this effect. Following the nearly unanimous condemnation o f the Food Commissariat and the razverstka policy at the Tenth Party Conference and Seventh Congress o f Soviets in Tambov in late January and early February, it was reasonable to assume that the concessions would concern the pursuit o f the razverstka in Tambov.41 Although the minutes o f this Politburo session do not contain details o f suggested measures to this effect, the Politburo’s intentions behind such concessions were no doubt significant, for their instructions specified that the declaration must som ehow be restricted to Tambov Province and not publicized in the central press, lest those outside the conflict area take it to stand as general state policy.42 One week later, the cessation o f grain requisitioning was announced in Tam­ bov.43 The declaration was composed in such a way as to preserve state legitimacy while at the same time offering public recognition o f popular grievances and an acknowledgment o f objective hardship. This was not a public apology nor, natu­ rally, was it presented as a concession forced upon the government by the rebels:

Owing to the recent possibility to receive grain supplies from the South and from the Urals, acknowledging the general difficulty of the present situation which confronts the Tambov peasant while also recognizing that a large portion of the present razverstka campaign has been completed and that the remaining grain supplies held by kulaks are likely to be minimal, the People’s Commissariat for Food Supply has responded to the report of the Tambov Communist Party committee by declaring the cessation of continued razverstka completion in Tambov Province.

The declaration emphasized that this was the realization o f the grand “bargain” that had been an explicit component o f the razverstka policy from the beginning. “ Comrade peasants [kresfiane i kresfianki) ! Through tremendous hardship, but with honor, you have fulfilled your great obligation to the worker-peasant gov­ ernment. Now your beloved [rodnaia] and hard-won worker-peasant government shall in due course pay you back a hundred times over.” Promising to provide whatever assistance was necessary to revive household economies and, particu­ larly, to ensure that the fields were sown with summer crops, the declaration was possibly the first time the Soviet government appealed for popular support rather than resorting to threats— and without, interestingly, even a single m ention o f “bandits.” Instead, as if to underscore the desire to effect the transition to peace­

Claiming the Initiative


time and to establish a “norm al” relationship w ith the villages, the declaration promised that “nonparty conferences” would be organized at which local people would meet with state officials and be given the opportunity to voice their con­ cerns and grievances. “Openly and directly identify your needs and grievances,” in­ structed the declaration. “ Soviet power seeks only to defend you.”44 The declaration certainly appeared to be the result o f an emerging consensus regarding the viability o f the razverstka and the need for the Soviet government to appeal for popular support in conflict areas such as Tambov. O n 8 February, Com mander Pavlov reported to the Tambov Com munist Party Committee, ex­ pressing his belief that they should not be overly distracted by the task o f captur­ ing or killing Antonov; something needed to be done to address the grievances o f the rural population if they were to overcome the insurgency.45 Lenin, on the same day, was also reflecting on the scale o f unrest and violence in the Soviet country­ side and was similarly settling on the opinion that the razverstka policy had out­ lived its usefulness and had, as several critics had contended for many weeks in early 1921, become detrimental to maintaining state authority in the countryside. Lenin’s “draft theses on the tax in kind” presented to the Politiburo on 8 February may not have been an original formulation for replacing the razverstka— the idea o f re­ placing the requisition policy with some form o f tax had been muted by others within the party for many weeks, even months— but it does represent one o f the earliest, and certainly the most high-level, docum ented moments in which the VTsIK chairman acknowledged the necessity o f ending the hated policy o f forced grain requisitioning.46 It is possible that the decision to declare an end to requisitioning in Tambov had been taken independently by provincial officials, in effect prefiguring the offi­ cial suspension o f the razverstka one m onth later with the introduction o f the “tax-in-kind” policy at the Tenth Party Congress in Petrograd.47 Certainly the idea had been circulating within party and state circles in Tambov in January, during the party conference and congress o f soviets, and by this time it was public knowl­ edge that other provinces in Soviet Russia had already suspended requisitioning before the official end o f the razverstka, although for varying reasons.48 O n 8 Feb­ ruary, the new party chairman, Nemtsov, spoke before the Presidium o f the party and soviet: “We have changed our opinion and have come to the conclusion that, in order to uproot the banditry problem, we must end the razverstka throughout the province.”49 Indeed, even if the decision to end requisitioning had been taken independently, the fact that it aroused no significant controversy served as fur­ ther indication, if any was needed, o f just how widely the damage being done by the razverstka policy was acknowledged by this time.


Claiming the Initiative

A member o f the central organization o f the Revolutionary Military Tribunal, Vasilii VasiTevich Ulrikh, a future presiding judge in the M oscow purge trials o f the 1930s who had been in Tambov since late January 1921 to oversee the organi­ zation o f an investigative and judicial tribunal system in the province, saw the dis­ continuation o f requisitioning work as critical to the consolidation o f Red Arm y and government authority in those areas “liberated” from the rebels. In Ulrikh’s words: “ There is nothing more they [the requisition squads] can achieve other than to arouse more animosity and provoke more bursts o f rebellion.” He high­ lighted the fact that many reports from Com mander Pavlov and from the provin­ cial Cheka had cited incidents in which requisition squads had come under attack in areas previously thought to be “cleaned” o f insurgents. Instead o f provoking or even punishing village communities by persisting with the practice o f forced req­ uisitioning, Ulrikh (with the backing o f Pavlov and the new chief o f the Tambov Cheka, Iankin) recommended that many more resources be devoted to alleviating the material shortages that were affecting the rural population and rewarding those villages that demonstrated loyalty to the regime. This way, he hoped, the government could “silence those SR agitators who claim that Soviet power only takes from the peasant without ever giving something in return.”50 In subsequent instructions regarding the declaration, provincial officials per­ sisted in invoking the authority o f the Food Commissariat.51 It is improbable that local officials would assert independence on such a vital matter. The principal evi­ dence for this conclusion derives from a meeting o f senior Politburo officials with representatives from Tambov soon after the declaration had been made. The trip to M oscow was made by the new Tambov party chairman, Nemtsov; the m ilitary commissar and former commander o f counterinsurgency operations, K. V. Redz’ko; and the Tambov uezd soviet chairman, Mikhail Beliakov. Nemtsov had prepared a report on the situation in the province for the Politburo and even met with Lenin to review the situation on 14 February. Redz’ko was present at the meeting o f the Politburo during the visit to the Soviet capital at which Nemtsov’s report was con­ sidered, and the new provincial party chairman was soon after able to telegraph back to Tambov: “Redz’ko reports that Lenin and [L. R] Serebriakov have endorsed m y line, and it [the declaration] is to remain in force.” 52 The extent to which the policy was Nemtsov’s “line” is difficult to determine. However, if Nemtsov be­ lieved that the confirmation o f the change in policy was in effect a personal con­ firmation o f his senior role in the provincial party, he would soon be disappointed. The visit to Moscow in the second week o f February was more distinguished by another meeting with Lenin by representatives from Tambov Province. Provin­ cial officials were accompanied by an unknown number o f military cadets (Redz’ko

Claiming the Initiative


had been instrumental in the organization o f the first Red Arm y academy in Tam­ bov Province in 1918, and the cadets were growing more important to the counter­ insurgency by 1921); most important, they were joined by five villagers from Tam­ bov and Kirsanov uezds who were scheduled to meet with Lenin on 14 February 1921 to discuss the insurgency and the position o f the Soviet government regard­ ing relations with the peasantry. The origins o f this unusual meeting go back to De­ cember 1920, when a delegation o f party officials from Tambov, including Beliakov and Shlikhter, attended the Eighth Party Congress in Moscow and sought to


the ear o f the VTsIK chairman regarding the ongoing conflict in their province.53 Catching a mom ent during a break in Congress activities, the men from Tambov — perhaps inappropriately, given the circumstances— asked Lenin to deploy a full Red Arm y division to the province to help fight the insurgents. Lenin demurred but did agree to meet with the delegates from Tambov at a later time. At this later meeting, during a recess on 25 December 1920, Lenin displayed an extraordinary interest in Tambov Province. Questioning the three men from Tambov— perhaps equally inappropriately— about a range o f technical issues, from the distribution o f grain held by individual rural “classes” in the province (kulaks, poor peasants, and so forth), to the state o f animal husbandry and livestock, Lenin appeared en­ tirely focused on issues pertaining to agriculture. Taken aback, the Tambov dele­ gates admitted that they were unable to answer any o f his formulaic questions regarding such issues, with the sole exception o f Lenin’s query regarding the num ­ ber o f tractors currently in operation in Tambov. (Beliakov replied that there were only two tractors, both confiscated from former gentry estates, one o f which was being used to haul rubbish in the provincial capital.) Although it would have been unthinkable for Beliakov, whose memoirs supply us with details concerning this meeting, to describe Lenin’s questions as both in­ appropriate and condescending (can people from Tambov have interests beyond agriculture?), one still suspects that the delegates were slightly bemused by the great leader’s initial round o f questions. Seeking to move on to more vital matters, the delegates repeated their request for M oscow to deploy a full Red Arm y divi­ sion to the province. “ I certainly sympathize with you,” Lenin replied, “and your request is legitimate and carries obvious conviction, but at the present time it is impossible for us to send a whole division to Tambov Province. We can help with guns. But you will have to make do for the time being with your own [human] re­ sources. Mobilize for this purpose all [Soviet] sympathizers.” 54 However, Lenin’s next suggestion truly surprised the officials from Tambov. Lenin, according to Be­ liakov, told them to send five or six civilians who were known to sympathize with


Claiming the Initiative

Antonov (and who were preferably “middle-aged and authoritative” in their com ­ munities), and that he w ould speak with them personally. Shlikhter, evidently taken aback at the suggestion like the others, asked: “Vladimir Il’ich, what need do you have for such people?” 55 The meeting, when it finally took place some seven weeks later, would provide the basis for one o f the most widely distributed pieces o f propaganda produced by the Soviet government in Tambov during the period o f the insurgency. Prepara­ tions had been made well in advance, including the selection o f the peasants to be taken to the Kremlin and the drafting o f short biographies o f each one to be re­ viewed by Lenin before their meeting. But the meeting itself was hardly fashioned to appeal to the peasant delegates as individuals. The discussion conformed broadly to past encounters between power (vlasf) and the people (narod), between the tsar and his subjects, even if the Soviet leader made an overt attempt to appear per­ sonable and approachable. According to Beliakov’s brief description o f the meet­ ing, Lenin emphasized from the outset the interests held in com mon by the Soviet state and the peasantry. The fight against the landlords had been endorsed and facilitated by the Bolsheviks in 1917, and the peasants’ and workers’ Red Arm y had fought to prevent the return o f the gentry during the civil war. Somehow the peas­ ants o f Tambov Province (“dark, illiterate people” according to Lenin, offering a scripted excuse for wayward behavior) had lost sight o f the com mon interests they shared with the Soviet government and had been led astray onto the path o f vio ­ lent resistance. The exceptional nature o f the insurgency in Tambov was a prom i­ nent theme. “ Did you see on your journey through Riazan’ and Moscow provinces anything like what is going on in Tambov?” Lenin asked, referring to the provinces traversed by the delegates en route to Moscow. “Nowhere else do we find such dis­ turbances as in Tambov Province,” he added, answering his own question.56 One o f the peasant delegates rose to challenge this assertion, stating that he had understood that there was resistance to the Soviet state everywhere and that even in M oscow Soviet power had ceased to exist. Here Beliakov may have taken some artistic license, for the latter claim would have been absurd in light o f the cir­ cumstances surrounding this meeting (although not entirely misplaced given the brewing discontent among workers in the capital), but it did permit the m em ­ oirist from Tambov to underscore what was obviously a theme identified as o f major importance. Lenin, in this case, only threw up his arms in an assured and avuncular fashion and calmly explained to the Tam bov peasants that this was clearly not the case and that they had allowed themselves to be easily misled by the former landlords and their devious agents, the SRs. Tambov was an isolated and exceptional case, according to Lenin, for nowhere else did the Soviet state experi-


Claiming the Initiative

Unnamed portrait o f one o f the Tambov villagers to meet with Lenin, February 1921. While carefully stage-managed, this meeting was not entirely a publicity stunt, as the villagers brought to the Kremlin were drawn from areas at the heart o f the insurgency. More than one o f the peasants were said to have suffered physical attacks upon return to their villages. Photo­ graph courtesy o f the Tambovskii Kraevedcheskii M uzei

ence resistance of this sort. The claims being made by the rebels, either about other major rural insurgencies or regarding urban disturbances in Moscow and Petro­ grad,


all lies. At the conclusion o f the meeting, Beliakov recalls that Lenin asked the peasants whether he needed to order Red Army units to Tambov to suppress the insurgency there. “No, it is not necessary to do so,” answered one. Nodding ap­ provingly, Lenin nevertheless added: “Still, unless you are able to deal with this Antonov yourselves before the beginning o f the spring sowing season, then the Red Army will have to come and help you get the job done.” And with that, Com ­ rade Lenin sent the peasants from Tambov on their way. Redz’ko related in a letter to a friend that he spoke to the five peasant delegates from Kirsanov and Tambov during their return journey on 17 February and re­ viewed with them what they had heard and seen during their extraordinary visit to the Kremlin. Redz’ko made each o f them promise that he would discuss the meeting with fellow community members at village meetings and describe what had been seen both in Moscow and on their journey.57 The impact o f these five men upon wider popular opinion, however, could only be limited, so the meeting


Claiming the Initiative

provided the topic o f a pamphlet published soon after entitled, “W hat Com rade Lenin Told the Peasants from Tambov.”58 Com posed by a member o f the Tambov uezd party organization, and ostensi­ bly based on descriptions o f the meeting provided by two o f the peasant repre­ sentatives, “What Comrade Lenin Told the Peasants from Tambov” was one o f the major propaganda pieces produced during the counterinsurgency operation. The obvious intention o f the pamphlet was to cast the peasant communities as the innocent victims o f both the agents o f the state and the rebels, as well as to re­ emphasize that the Soviet government was responsive to the needs o f the people, a broad objective o f any popular revolution and a principle that had grown ob­ scure over the course o f the civil war. The Soviet leader in the pam phlet asks, “W hat is this I hear o f some Antonov band, and what are they doing?” One o f the peasants answers with a brief description o f the robbery and looting o f village communities carried out by the rebels. But Lenin also inquires about the razverstka and the difficulties experienced by communities in fulfilling the demands for grain. Here, interestingly, the parallel with the carefully cultivated dichotomy o f the “good tsar-bad boyar” is most clear in his response to the Tambov peasants’ complaint regarding the conduct o f the requisition squads, which “only demand and take” grain, and yet the grain is frequently left to rot rather than delivered to the needy. Accepting that “local authorities” were to blame for this conduct and many more ills, Lenin told the men from Tambov: If the peasants are still unhappy with their local representatives, then you must inform the provincial authorities, and if the provincial authorities fail to pay any attention, then inform Moscow, the Kremlin, me [Lenin]. You may address your problems to me by post or in person__ Together with the workers you have spilt your own blood for the sake of freedom, for your own government. Hold this prize firmly in your hands together with the workers. You will soon see what kind of power it will be.59 “W hat Com rade Lenin Told the Peasants,” in the context o f Tambov, represented a significant contribution to the Soviet state’s growing awareness o f the necessity o f recognizing legitimate grievances held by the rural population and speaking to those grievances. It constituted an overture to village communities that sought to open a dialogue on important questions that, in the experience o f those com m u­ nities during the years o f civil war, had been non-negotiable in the policies and conduct o f the Soviet state.60 Engaging the propaganda war constituted one o f the priorities for the Pleni­ potentiary Commission and Antonov-Ovseenko, who arrived in Tambov two days

Claiming the Initiative


before Nemtsov and the others returned from Moscow.61 But the first order o f business for M oscow’s new man in Tambov involved enforcing “party discipline” in the province through personnel changes and public demonstrations and dec­ larations o f unity. Although it is difficult to know how Nemtsov evaluated the security o f his own position following the meetings in M oscow in mid-February, after his return to Tambov on 18 February his days as party chairman were num ­ bered. He had incurred the suspicion o f several state and party officials, and de­ spite being one o f the champions o f the decision to end the razverstka in Tambov, and despite being popular among uezd-level party organizations, his removal was deemed necessary if harmony was to return to the provincial party organization.62 It was just as well, perhaps, that Nemtsov fell ill upon his return to Tambov and took a two-week break from his duties, for it spared him the public humilia­ tion o f seeing B. A. Vasil’ev replace him as party chairman at a hastily organized “extraordinary” Eleventh Tambov Com m unist Party Conference in early March 1921.63The conference gave the new leadership o f the Plenipotentiary Commission an opportunity not only to explain the organizational changes being made to the administration o f the province and to the counterinsurgency effort, but also a chance to end the political infighting that had characterized the previous weeks.64 W ith resolutions denouncing “bourgeois individualism” and “indiscipline” within the local party organization, the conference, under Antonov-Ovseenko, sought to draw a line under the previous regime in Tambov that had been pulled apart under the strains o f the conflict with the insurgents.65 Even though the soviet executive committee and the provincial party com m it­ tee continued to meet and the Plenipotentiary Commission was obliged to report to both on a regular basis, the commission assumed control over the day-to-day affairs that were important to the counterinsurgency campaign, the scope o f which was expanding with each passing day. Still, the commission included as members both Vasil’ev, the new provincial party chairman, and Lavrov, chairman o f the Tambov soviet executive committee. But, as if to underscore the fact that the com ­ mission was above the local politics o f the province, the Presidium o f the Plenipo­ tentiary Com mission— the group that w ould meet m ost frequently and decide the most pressing issues— was composed only o f Antonov-Ovseenko, Commander Pavlov, and A. I. Zhabin, who had arrived with Antonov-Ovseenko to assume con­ trol o f the political department o f the armed forces in the province.66 Excluded were both Lavrov and Vasil’ev. This highly centralized arrangement was to replace what was labeled the “amateurish” conduct o f the counterinsurgency campaign by the previous provincial regime at the first meeting o f senior Tambov officials with Antonov-Ovseenko and the future members o f the Plenipotentiary Commission.67


Claiming the Initiative

That first meeting o f local officials with the Plenipotentiary Commission team covered several issues that had been identified as “nonmilitary” priorities. These principally fell into two categories. The first was intelligence and the support for the armed effort to be provided by the Cheka (discussed in chapter 7). For pres­ ent purposes, the second category is o f particular importance, for it indicated a change in orientation that arrived with Antonov-Ovseenko and the establishment o f the Plenipotentiary Commission. This broadly concerned public relations. Dis­ cussing a range o f initiatives and tasks on 27 February, the new leadership dele-






responsibility for investigating the pursuit o f m any lines o f action that would demonstrate not only the resolve o f the Soviet state to suppress the insurgency but also that the state’s policies and practices had substantively changed regard­ ing the village communities and peasant households. As such, members o f the party and state administration were instructed to review the procurement per­ sonnel o f the Food Commissariat, not only to remove “suspicious” elements but also in special cases to arrange for the public investigation and trial o f those who had committed abuses against villagers in the course o f their procurement duties. Likewise, local state and party personnel suspected o f activities that “discredited” Soviet power were to be placed on public trial. Such public demonstrations o f the state’s intention to discipline its agents in the countryside extended to the army, whose soldiers and officers were similarly to be tried publicly for improprieties committed against civilians. Such measures were intended to underscore the de­ veloping claim that the Soviet state was changing its practices along with its poli­ cies as it made the transition to peacetime. Making a public show o f resolve was not limited to demonstrations o f justice targeting the state’s own agents. The revolutionary tribunals were also to direct their attentions to the rebels and to organize public trials o f captured bandits. A point was even made regarding the possibility o f trying captured rebels alongside arrested agents o f the Food Commissariat and soldiers suspected o f abusing civil­ ians, thus appropriating and undermining the rebels’ claims regarding “red bandits” and channeling popular grievances through the state’s own institutions o f justice, the revolutionary tribunals.68Placing the Soviet state at the center o f popular de­ mands for justice was accompanied by a plan to boost the profile o f the organized counterinsurgency effort through the mass distribution o f all orders and decrees issued by the army leadership in individual military sectors. Such orders and de­ crees were thus to serve an immediate purpose while also reaping a potential pub­ lic relations benefit by establishing and sustaining an image o f the Soviet state as

Claiming the Initiative


in control o f the developing strategic situation and public order in the south o f the province.69 M obilizing local communities for public demonstrations o f support for the state and the counterinsurgency also featured in the plans o f the Plenipotentiary Commission. Provincial officials had already taken a step in this direction with the promise to organize “nonparty” conferences, which would be state-sponsored forums for the open expression o f grievances. The Plenipotentiary Commission, however, intended to conduct a campaign that had its nearest equivalent in the rebels’ own practices o f organizing local cells o f the STK on the consensual basis o f a signed declaration o f support for the insurgency. In late February, Soviet state representatives began planning for a sentencing campaign [prigovomaia kampaniia], whereby village communities would be mobilized to sign public condemnations o f the insurgents and declarations o f support for the Soviet state. It is difficult to determine the authenticity o f such declarations after they began to appear in March 1921. Certainly it is impossible to discount them out o f hand, given the fact that many village communities harbored serious grievances regarding the conduct o f the insurgents, especially after so many months o f conflict and concomitant de­ mands placed upon them by the Partisan Army. In the end, as we shall see, what un­ dermined the prigovomaia kampaniia was not the questionable authenticity o f the prigovory, but the practical complications that limited the reach o f the kampaniia. Facilitating the transition to “normality”— that is, demobilizing the rural pop­ ulation and prom pting them to return to peacetime routines— involved much more than addressing the grievances o f village communities. The Soviet state had to speak to the anxieties o f the rural population. Even if the prospect o f the spring thaw raised fears o f operational complications for the Red Arm y and promised im­ proved natural cover for the insurgents, the rhythms o f the agricultural calendar represented a greater challenge to the rebels than to the state. The Partisan Arm y and STK had to show sensitivity to genuine concerns about hunger and famine shared among the village communities while maintaining the state o f emergency that sustained participation in and sympathy with the cause o f the insurgency. In essence, the rebels had to acknowledge “ordinary” concerns while working to pre­ serve a general atmosphere o f the “extraordinary” in the Tambov countryside. For the Soviet government, urging peasant farmers back to work in the fields in the springtime should have been akin to m oving with the flow o f the tide and was appreciated as an important weapon against the insurgents. Government re­ ports regarding popular anxieties about the completion o f the upcoming sowing campaign were filed alongside reports o f hunger and starvation in the country­


Claiming the Initiative

side.70 W hile such anxieties had been a fixture since the previous summer, the continuing conflict between rebels and state troops only served to diminish the prospects for the harvest. Village communities had to contend with the demands for grain made by Partisan Arm y regiments and Red Arm y groups, but it was more the disruption o f field work by the insurgency that fed the unease pervading the countryside. Soviet propaganda distributed within the territory o f the insurgency and published in the provincial press capitalized on these concerns, seeking to separate the rebels from their partisan base in the villages by amplifying the fears for the sowing season and the harvest.71 The newpaper Kresfianskaia Bednota was revived in February 1921, and its con­ tent was largely given over to information regarding the introduction o f sowing committees to Tambov Province. The legislation regarding the sowing committees, introduced in December 1920, was intended to maximize grain production at a time when it was widely acknowledged that famine was threatened in many parts o f the Soviet republic. There were two parts to the legislation. The first involved the pooling and protection o f seed grain in individual villages and regions, and the second concerned the improvement o f efficiency and techniques by repairing agri­ cultural machinery and implements, as well as teaching more effective methods o f cultivation and crop management.72 Each village was to have its own committee (selkom), to be managed by volost and uezdwide sowing committees (posevkom). The available seed grain in a given com m unity was to be registered with the sow­ ing committees, possibly even removed for safe storage before the actual sowing campaign commenced, and to maximize the sown acreage in a given locality, seed grain was to be redistributed where possible among capable, “ industrious” farmers. However, in areas where seed grain was perceived to be in such short supply, whether lost to over-requisitioning by state agents or by rebels, such plans for re­ distribution o f seed aroused little reaction, enthusiastic or not. Instead, in most areas affected by the insurgency, the introduction o f the sowing committees was taken as a promise o f direct assistance by the state in the form o f seed grain. The provincial government had already nourished such expectations, perhaps delib­ erately, with its announcement o f the end o f requisitioning, which included words regarding the ability o f the Soviet government to provide direct aid to com m uni­ ties suffering shortages. W hen the first Congress o f Uezd Sowing Committees con­ vened in early March, few if any concrete accomplishments were discussed. But there was uniform enthusiasm reported in those areas where the sowing com ­ mittees were only just being introduced or discussed, albeit predicated on the ex­ pectation o f state deliveries o f seed grain.73 W hile the sowing committees were very much a work in progress, and in areas affected by the insurgency it was nearly

Claiming the Initiative


impossible to organize them at the village level,74 the initial receptivity o f village communities to the campaign did represent both a profound anxiety about the economic situation on the immediate horizon and a willingness to accept a role for the Soviet state in alleviating the impending crisis. That the hopes for exten­ sive deliveries o f grain were misplaced was a concern for the long term. In the short term, the sowing committees served as an excellent instrument for focusing attentions on “ordinary,” everyday concerns and anxieties, and the few supplies available for the government to distribute among “loyal” villages helped to pro­ m ote


Soviet state as the focal point for hope.75 The impact could not be measured in purely material terms, as the dividends were sought in the demobilization o f the partisan countryside. Nowhere is the use o f economic policy for political purposes clearer than with the introduction o f the tax in kind at the Tenth Party Congress in m id-March 1921. The decision to end the razverstka and the policy o f requisitioning grain sur­ pluses throughout the Soviet Republic was a response to popular pressure on the Soviet government by countless workers, peasants, and members o f the armed forces. From the perspective o f the Kremlin, the intensification o f disorders throughout the republic by such a broad spectrum o f social groups was unmis­ takably uniform, which necessitated a major change o f policy rather than indi­ vidualized and piecemeal responses in different localities. The question o f food supply dominated the agenda o f strikes that crippled industrial centers in Janu­ ary and, especially, February.76 Cuts in rations aroused even greater discontent with a rationing system that had long been recognized as corrupt and inefficient, and tighter restrictions on un­ official channels o f access to food accompanied intensified, objective shortages o f grain. M any plants and factories, only recently reopened in the new year, were shut down both because o f supply problems and growing unrest among the work­ ers. Attempts to placate the urban population and to alleviate the shortages were limited by the breakdown in the transportation system (to which the conflict in Tambov made a significant contribution) and by more recent flare-ups o f rural re­ bellion in grain-growing regions that the state heavily relied upon, notably west­ ern Siberia.77 The strike wave reached its apex in the final two weeks o f February, seeing demonstrations by thousands o f workers on the streets o f M oscow and Petrograd, as well as later in other industrial areas.78 There were not only calls for practical measures to alleviate the grain crisis but also openly hostile demands for the removal o f the Com m unist governm ent and the introduction o f “people’s rule” (narodovlasf).


Claiming the Initiative

W hile certainly connected with broader demands for civil rights and dem o­ cratic elections to the soviets, such overtly political aims and slogans were never as clear as the practical measures advocated by workers’ groups for relieving the food supply crisis. But the “political” aims o f demonstrators nevertheless found strong resonance in Petrograd, in particular, where demands for an end to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power and for “people’s rule” animated the spec­ tacular m utiny o f sailors at Kronstadt in early March 1921.79 Famously, the height o f the mutiny coincided with the opening o f the Tenth Party Congress, at which Lenin presented the legislation replacing the razverstka with the tax in kind as a means o f alleviating the grain crisis. The urban disorders in Moscow and Petrograd had been contained by the beginning o f March through the imposition o f mar­ tial law and the extensive use o f the Cheka’s power to arrest and detain suspected political opponents. And the Red Arm y was set to launch its first assault on the Kronstadt fortress on the very day that the Tenth Congress opened on 8 March 1921. But neither o f these uncompromising tactics to crush political opposition and civil disorder could remove the connection in the minds o f congress dele­ gates between the need to appease popular discontent throughout Soviet terri­ tory and the proposed replacement o f the razverstka with the tax in kind. Force and coercion could not exclusively be relied upon to subdue resistance and rebel­ lion on the scale now reached, especially when the political and economic failure o f the razverstka continued to be the bedrock o f Soviet policy toward grain pro­ ducers in the countryside.80 The end o f the razverstka was followed soon after by a Sovnarkom decree o f 27 March liberalizing trade restrictions, opening up possibilities for the exchange o f goods and produce between town and country, and recognizing much o f the black market economy that had become a lifeline for countless persons suffering under the weight o f food shortages in the cities and towns. If introducing the tax in kind promised that producers could retain their after-tax surpluses, the decree on trade opened possibilities for the free dispensation o f those surpluses. Both the razverstka and the state’s efforts to restrict private trade had been major griev­ ances o f both the rural and urban populations, although for workers involved in strikes in the major cities, free trade and the prospect o f rampant speculation was far from an ideal resolution to their peculiar hardships.81 Such a measure regard­ ing trade was bound to favor the farmers and private speculators in foodstuffs,




it addressed one o f their most prominent grievances while at the same time ac­ knowledging the state’s limited ability to manage the procurement and distribu­

Claiming the Initiative


tion o f food.82 The elimination o f the razverstka was also widely greeted in the provinces. In Tambov, the burden o f implementing the razverstka policy had been instrumen­ tal in tearing apart any unity that the provincial leadership had enjoyed after the municipal soviet in Tambov assumed control over affairs in 1918. The decision to end requisitions in February was, in part, a trium ph o f the provincial leadership, as many local party and state officials had been urging for a suspension o f the razverstka since the autumn o f 1920. But the announcement o f the official end o f the razverstka and its replacement by the tax in kind was greeted with a m uch more tangible sense o f relief throughout the party and administration, from the provincial capital to the uezd towns. As the food commissar in Tambov, ShugoP, explained to assembled uezd soviet executive committee chairmen at their annual congress in early April, the decision o f the Tenth Party Congress to replace the razverstka was a political decision meant to begin the process o f repairing relations with the farming peasantry. “ These few measures [implemented in March re­ garding provisions policy] should, o f course, have a decisive role in influencing the psychology o f the peasant mass and drawing it closer to Soviet power.” O f course, state officials had said similar things about a whole variety o f pol­ icy changes and circumstances that arose during the civil war. However, the change to the tax in kind permitted even loyal Food Commissariat officials such as ShugoP to disown the razverstka and to distance themselves from its troubled history. “No one here can fail to recognize,” he told the uezd chairmen, “that over the course o f the last two years we eliminated any and all incentives for the peasant producers with our predatory policy [grabiteVskaia politika] [of razverstka] ”83 ShugoP prom ­ ised that the days o f arbitrary arrests and corporal punishment had come to an end (even promising that the food “army” would be replaced by a more acceptablesounding food “militia” ) and that the new system o f the tax in kind promised not only a reduction in the burden on communities, but also a new ethos in the con­ duct o f provisions work.84 He was supported by the Tam bov party chairman, VasiPev, who spoke o f the political benefits o f the new policy, in particular re­ gaining the trust and confidence o f village communities. He promised a complete overhaul o f Food Commissariat personnel to accompany the introduction o f the tax in kind, rem oving those individuals whose association with the abuses o f the razverstka policy had become fixed in the minds o f villagers and farmers: “The simple, primitive mind o f the peasant, when he sees in front o f him a familiar req­ uisitioning agent [prodovol’stvennik], will never trust him, even if he is singing a new tune.” 85


Claiming the Initiative

However, beyond these promises o f a new ethos and o f extensive personnel changes within the commissariat, senior officials admitted that they knew very little o f what the new policy entailed, as they still awaited formal instructions on the execution o f the new tax-in-kind policy. However, in Tambov the promise that food policy would no longer be divisive and a source o f antagonism, both between the Soviet state and the peasantry and within the Soviet state and Com m unist Party, dom inated considerations o f the policy change announced at the Tenth Congress.86 It allowed officials in the provincial government and party to draw a line under the previous policy and provided them with belief that a new start could be made after years o f conflict culminating in the ongoing insurgency in southern Tambov.

POPULAR RECEPTION O f THE NEP AND THE NATURE 01 PARTISAN RESOLVE To judge the initial reception o f the announcement o f the end o f requisitioning in Tambov in February, and then the decision to end the policy nationwide and replace the razverstka with a tax in kind, is to depend in large part on the reports provided by agents and officials o f the Soviet state. As noted, there was a palpable relief that permeated the provincial administration upon hearing the news o f the end to requisitioning, and this relief no doubt informed many early assessments o f the public m ood. So great was the desire for the conflict to end and for the province to return to normality in the wake o f the civil war, those hopes could not but have influenced reports on the popular reception o f the news. Certainly the Soviet state had every reason to propagate positive assessments o f the end to requisitioning and o f the tax in kind, hoping that the published resolutions o f support passed by loyal villages— whether legitimate or not— would create a m o­ mentum behind the measures being introduced by the state to restore the agri­ cultural econom y and with it relations with the rural population. In the absence o f an established network o f local administration and C om ­ munist Party cells, the organization o f nonparty conferences in major villages and towns in late February helped spread the news o f the provincial administration’s decision to end requisitioning.87 Despite their nonparty status, the conferences gave Soviet authorities an opportunity to distribute literature and make an­ nouncements, and, significantly, to gauge the public m ood. It was through direct contact at such gatherings that the showpiece m eeting o f Lenin with peasants from Tambov became fairly well known, as it was unlikely that state and party officials would rely upon the initiative o f those five men from Kirsanov and Tam­

Claiming the Initiative


bov to spread the news themselves; in fact, all five became the targets o f threats and attacks from rebels and rebel sympathizers upon return to their native villages.88 The gatherings could be derailed by outspoken opponents o f the Soviet govern­ ment, as in the large village o f Rasskazovo, home to several small textile mills and other minor enterprises, where a suspected SR party member incited other par­ ticipants to make bold denunciations o f the Com m unist Party.89 Some officials worried that providing public forums for open discussion and criticism could weaken the authority o f the Soviet government, and even when the public decla­ rations that emerged from nonparty conferences were supported, the sincerity o f such declarations could not be taken at face value. As with the corresponding sen­ tencing campaign (prigovornaia kampaniia), there was no small measure o f self­ protection behind the willingness to sign such declarations and resolutions, and some officials warned colleagues not to get carried away with the few initial pro­ nouncements o f loyalty and enthusiasm.90 If there was a com mon feature to early reports regarding the reception o f the news o f the end o f requisitioning and, particularly, o f the tax in kind, it was that the news aroused tremendous interest and spread very quickly from village to village.91 As with provincial state and party officials, townspeople and villagers alike had many questions regarding the practical application o f the tax in kind, questions that could be answered only as these considerations were resolved by Sovnarkom and Food Commissariat officials after the initial decision o f the Tenth Congress. Similarly, the easing o f trade restrictions provoked considerable inter­ est and early initiative, although, once again, the details o f the decree had not been entirely worked out at the time it was published in late March 1921, meaning that enthusiasm was tempered by uncertainty. Still, enthusiasm on both sides o f the socalled town-country divide for the decree was tangible, and not long after its pub­ lication individuals were venturing out from places such as Kozlov and Tambov to purchase foodstuffs from nearby villages.92 The spread o f the news o f the tax in kind naturally provoked distrust as well as curiosity and enthusiasm. O n the strength o f experience, it was much more likely that village communities would approach the decree with caution if not hostility. “ No sooner than the crops are ready for harvest than the state will take them just as before” was one reaction from Tambov uezd recorded in Com munist Party re­ ports from the countryside. “The Soviet state will take more from the peasants than the decree on the tax permits” was another voiced at a nonparty conference in Kozlov.93 That the tax was just a piece o f legislative sleight o f hand on the part o f the Soviet state was a theme regularly voiced at such conferences, one that no doubt was discouraging for authentically enthusiastic state and party officials en-


Claiming the Initiative

gaged in political w ork in the Tam bov countryside. Such reactions reinforced stereotypes regarding the “dark” Russian peasantry. However, the tax in kind undeniably generated interest and prompted indi­ viduals and communities to assess its meaning. Certainly the news forced the Par­ tisan Arm y and STK to engage the NEP as a Soviet offensive on the propaganda front. Leaving aside apocryphal stories o f Antonov declaring that the game was up now that the state had abandoned the razverstka, the decrees and initiatives launched by the Plenipotentiary Com m ission and the Soviet government prompted the political agitators and rebel commanders o f the Partisan Arm y to spend time and effort containing the potential political damage.94 Not only were Partisan Arm y units instructed to show greater sensitivity to the needs o f the farm­ ing peasantry and the economic health o f the countryside during the sowing sea­ son, they were also prompted to assist the village communities directly in a way that mirrored the Soviet state’s own initiatives. M any o f these instructions had emerged in the spring but were not necessarily out o f character for the Partisan Army, such as for regiments to avoid traveling across newly sown fields or the STK’s order banning the distillation o f moonshine as a waste o f resources when seed grain was in short supply. Others were clearly direct responses to Soviet ini­ tiatives, such as the rebels’ own attempts to establish sowing committees in villages where STKs had been organized, and in corresponding instructions from the Par­ tisan A rm y headquarters for rebel soldiers to assist where possible with field work.95 Using armed soldiers to help villagers during this intense period o f the agricultural calendar would become one o f the crucial initiatives o f the Red Arm y and Soviet state during the summer when the number o f government troops sta­ tioned in Tambov had increased considerably. O f course, the rebel response to the state’s initiatives was not confined to in­ stitutional innovations. The sowing committees that proliferated in March and April 1921 quickly became easy targets for insurgent attacks, and just as with as­ saults on state and collective farms, the official press reported these as rebel at­ tacks on the innocent peasant population o f Tambov.96At the time o f the sowing campaign, this was taken as evidence that the Partisan Arm y sought to sabotage the 1921 harvest and starve the local population along with the urban supporters o f the Soviet government. According to one official report on such incidents, the Partisan Army’s activities presented the Tambov peasantry with a clear choice “be­ tween two evils” [sic]— Soviet power or the bandits.97 Clearly the rebels were not willing to conduct sabotage to such suicidal ends, but it was similarly clear that they had lost the initiative, even if they enjoyed many advantages in the propa­ ganda war.98 Red Arm y soldiers, the state’s main force on the ground in both the

Claiming the Initiative


military and political struggles with the insurgency in Tambov, were themselves unclear regarding the new decrees o f the Soviet government, and one o f the major tasks set for the Plenipotentiary Com mission was to improve the political work among their own soldiers as a necessary complement to agitation among the civil­ ian population." In a protracted conflict such as the rebellion in Tambov had become, the Parti­ san Arm y and STK were forced to walk a very fine line to sustain participation in and sympathy with the cause o f insurgency. In balancing the need to maintain a heightened level o f m obilization and engagement among the rural population o f southern Tambov, the rebels were forced to recognize that “normal,” everyday life had to continue in the countryside. This was, most important, a product o f the passage o f time and the nature o f the agricultural calendar, but the Soviet state’s concessions in February and March only accentuated this pressure on the Tambov rebels. Certainly the reaction to the NEP and the sowing committees belied, in part, the assessment o f Shugol’, the Tambov food commissar, who contended that peasants had grown so dispirited and despondent following the years o f civil war and insurgency that they had ceased to take interest in their fields.100In fact, quite the opposite was true, and this proved much more o f a challenge for the Partisan Arm y and STK in Tambov. If an order issued on 20 February by the staff com ­ mander o f the First Partisan Army, Ivan Gubarev, is any indication, maintaining a required sense o f urgency and commitment had become a serious problem for the rebel leadership: Following the tremendous strength exhibited by the people throughout the struggle with the tyrants... a weakening of the fighting spirit has been noted recently among the partisan units, manifesting itself in selfishness and cowardice. We no longer find the courage that first lifted the partisan heart and compelled the partisans forward to destroy all enemies. No longer do we find those courageous revolutionaries who in August and September threw themselves first into open, honorable battle, not knowing retreat, and who exacted horrible defeats from the communist bands and who grabbed victory after victory. These men somehow and for some reason have left the ranks of the Partisan Army and have secured for themselves safe places in the rearguard administration. The remaining courageous fighters are growing lost in a mass of self-seekers.101 The expansion o f the STK network and the influx o f new recruits in the new year as the Red Arm y demobilized had changed the composition and character o f the Partisan Army. But perhaps more important, the wear o f a conflict that had lasted for more than six months had depleted the reserves o f motivation and commit-

i 82

Claiming the Initiative

ment that had been in evidence earlier in the insurgency, something underscored both by the approaching sowing season and the Soviet government’s concessions relating to the razverstka. If they had not already secured “noncombat” responsi­ bilities, as Gubarev’s order indicates, weary fighters were tempted to view the Soviet government’s policy retreat as a victory and thus an excuse to lay down their guns and return to their homes.102This temptation would only grow greater as the pressure exercised by the Red Arm y in Tambov increased. M inim izing the appeal o f accepting promised and partial gains, rather than “victory” over the Soviet government and Com munist Party, assumed central im ­ portance in the rebels’ management o f public opinion in the Tambov country­ side. Having succeeded in articulating and even broadening the ambitions o f the partisan population o f the province during a period o f regular victories over gov­ ernment troops and gathering mom entum in the organization o f the insurgent army and its political wing, the STK, the Tambov rebels now confronted the task o f keeping the movement moving. For them to do so, and to prevent the dem o­ bilization o f an exhausted rural population amid strong pressures for self-preser­ vation, the symbols and m aximum objectives o f the Partisan Arm y and STK had to remain relevant and realistic in the eyes o f potential supporters. The insurgents had to demonstrate progress in their enterprise to sustain support, and as their ability to do so within the confines o f Tambov Province diminished, the frame o f reference for evaluating success extended to incorporate the broad canvas o f antiSoviet, anti-Com munist resistance. W hen Pavlov assumed command in Tambov in January, one o f the operational priorities was to contain the conflict in Tambov. This was informed by an appre­ ciation o f the growing number o f insurgencies and rebellions throughout much o f the grain-growing regions o f Russia and Ukraine. The scenario in which a par­ tisan leader such as Antonov was able to expand his insurgency by linking up with another established rebel figurehead was in the forefront o f planning considera­ tions as Red Arm y officials assembled intelligence regarding the array o f identifi­ able anti-Soviet rebels that had emerged in late 1920. Every rum or regarding a possible link between Antonov and, for instance, the rebel leader Nester Makhno in eastern Ukraine, or the newly emerged Kirill Vakhulin in southern Saratov, commanded the attention o f Red Arm y officers engaged in the struggle with ban­ ditry. And these rumors frequently shaped strategic deployments, for while Soviet authorities frequently spoke in public o f an “internal front,” the prospect o f a co­ herent, unified front engaged by anti-Soviet rebels represented a veritable night­ mare scenario. Reports o f M akhno’s Ukrainian rebels seeking to m ove into Voronezh Province just south o f Tambov in January, and possibly linking up with

Claiming the Initiative


local rebels in that territory, inform ed the conviction that A ntonov’s Partisan Arm y was more likely to concentrate its activities in the south o f Tambov with the intention o f establishing operational contact with Makhno. Officials believed that rather than setting their sights on Moscow, as had been feared earlier in 1920, the rebels in Tam bov projected their ambitions southward in the hope o f ex­ panding the range o f the anti-Soviet movement. As such, new troop deployments in January were prioritized for Borisoglebsk uezd in southern Tambov, and the military sector based in Borisoglebsk was expanded to incorporate northeastern Voronezh Province to facilitate operations that extended across provincial bor­ ders.103 The new year did bring another round o f rebel forays across provincial borders, and while these incursions into Saratov and Penza provinces appeared to confirm that the Partisan Arm y maintained ambitions to expand the territory o f the in­ surgency after consolidating a base in southern Tambov, the actual course o f these incursions leaves their military and political utility open to question.104 Arm ed insurgents from Tambov had entered Saratov territory in significant numbers on four separate occasions, although only the first such foray in October lasted more than a couple o f days. The attack on Rtishchevo on 2 February, in which several rail cars were looted and then burned, was notable in part because it had delayed Lunacharsky’s departure from Tambov following the Eighth Tambov Congress o f Soviets. But this raid, according to S. S. Kamenev in Moscow, was carried out by a small group o f only 150 armed men— hardly a major incursion into the neigh­ boring province and a sad comment on the defense arranged for this significant railway station by officials in the Saratov M ilitary Commissariat.105 Only two days later, however, a much larger Partisan Arm y force entered Saratov in Balashov uezd. According to local reports, the rebels numbered somewhere in the region o f 8,000-12,000 m en.106 Local security forces opted to fall back to Balashov and Rtichshevo rather than remain dispersed and vulnerable in the countryside.107 Rather than simply abandoning the territory to the Tambov rebels, however, officials in Balashov collected a number o f hostages from the major vil­ lages in the uezd and kept them in the town as insurance against any collusion with the rebels, a similar tactic employed— successfully, they believed— during the first major incursion in October 1920.108 And while there was evidence that the local peasantry was, at worst, indifferent to the rebels from Tambov, there were other reports o f open cooperation with the insurgents and the exploitation o f their arrival in Balashov to attack state and collective farms, as well as to carry out revenge attacks on the few state and party officials who remained in the country­ side. However, these were largely opportunistic in nature.

i 84

Claiming the Initiative

The Partisan Arm y did seek to mobilize the local population o f Balashov, both with the organization o f village STKs and the formation o f a “ Saratov” regiment o f the rebel army, which according to one member numbered some 500 men on horseback.109According to Naum IuPtsov, an eighteen-year-old who was briefly a member o f this regiment, the Partisan Arm y encountered only distrust and hos­ tility from the local population in Balashov, and it was only when they returned to Tambov territory that they could rely upon support from the village com m u­ nities.110Another eyewitness to the events in February, G. V. Vedeniapin, an agent in the Saratov Cheka organization, similarly recorded only scenes o f looting and violence rather than the varieties o f political agitation that had accompanied the earlier period o f consolidation in Tambov territory or even earlier incursions into Saratov in 1920.111 W hile estimates vary o f the number o f armed men who crossed the border into Saratov, most sources agree that the train o f carts carrying supplies and looted goods numbered in the hundreds (one source claims 2,000 carts).112 Despite the organization o f at least one village STK and the formation o f a local Partisan Arm y regiment in Saratov, the incursion in February 1921 by the rebels from Tambov represented a military raid much more than a genuine effort to ex­ pand the insurgency. Much would have depended upon the receptivity o f the local population in Balashov and Serdobsk uezds, and here the evidence is mixed, pos­ sibly a reflection o f the uneven conduct o f Partisan Arm y units in Saratov terri­ tory. In villages where STK and Partisan Arm y agents had prepared the ground by establishing contact with sympathetic locals and distributing inform ation re­ garding the events in Tambov and the wider struggle against the Soviet govern­ ment, the arrival o f rebels from Tambov who maintained discipline and displayed the honor and dignity (chestnosf ) so valued in partisan propaganda would likely have been welcomed. However, if the character and discipline o f the partisan units was growing compromised, as some rebels leaders evidently feared, then the work o f political agitators in Saratov territory would have been quickly undone by rebel soldiers. Fears that the Partisan Arm y was seeking to establish links with insurgents in Saratov were not realized in February.113 Nor were fears that the rebellion would grow to encompass parts o f neighboring Penza Province, despite similar raids conducted across the border in late January and early February by the rebel leader in Kozlov uezd, V. F. Selianskii. Once more, provincial authorities struggled to de­ termine where the true sympathies o f the local population lay, with some sources reporting the receptivity o f the village communities to the overtures o f the rebel leaders, and others only detailing the occasions on which similar communities were the chief victims o f rebel deprivations.114 Regardless o f the questionable pop­

Claiming the Initiative


ular appeal o f the rebels, officials in both Saratov and Penza provinces reiterated to M oscow earlier complaints regarding the conduct o f the antibanditry cam ­ paign in Tambov. Once again, the disruption caused to both territories bordering Tambov provoked demands for greater attention to border security, improved co­ ordination between military authorities, and extending the operational jurisdic­ tion o f the Red Arm y command in Tambov to adjacent provinces. The Partisan Arm y continued to use the neighboring provinces as escape routes following par­ tial defeats inflicted by Red Arm y forces in Tambov, and officials in Penza and Saratov feared that Antonov could quickly be made their problem at a time not only when they had their own native insurgents, but also when the onset o f spring would complicate counterinsurgency operations.115 The response was to create in March and April 1921 two new military sectors (the Seventh and Eighth) under Tambov Red Arm y command, based in Rtishchevo and Penza. The other outlet across provincial borders for Partisan A rm y regiments was south into Voronezh, where rebel groups from Borisoglebsk had previously dis­ rupted local administration and tied down Soviet security forces in the Novokhoper region. These incursions continued in January and February 1921, although not in significant numbers and not as part o f what might be termed an “operation” con­ ducted by the Partisan Army. Unlike in Saratov, or even Penza, the rebels at no time succeeded in organizing village committees or local armed groups. However, in February and March 1921 the province o f Voronezh featured prom inently in the renewed political and military activities o f the Partisan Arm y through the ar­ rival o f another anti-Soviet army led by Ivan Sergeevich Kolesnikov. Like many other anti-Soviet rebels during the civil war, Kolesnikov was once an officer in the Red Arm y before he deserted in the summer o f 1920 amid suspicious circumstances involving m oney and theft and returned to his native region in southern Voronezh (Ostrogozhskii uezd). He rose to prominence in conditions that, once more, were fairly typical o f the time, assuming the lead in a localized upris­ ing against requisition squads in November 1920 and distinguishing him self by organizing local men into a coherent armed force and sustaining the insurgency throughout the month. By December 1920 over 5,000 men had been organized into five regiments that combined to form a single rebel division commanded by Kolesnikov himself. They had managed to seize artillery and machine guns from the small government forces assigned to the region to restore order, one o f which was commanded by a young Grigorii Zhukov, future marshal o f the Soviet Union.116 The rebels’ disintegration over the course o f December was nearly as rapid as their rise the month before, however, and Kolesnikov’s rebel division was reduced to a mere 150 men on horseback by the time they were forced from Voronezh terri-


Claiming the Initiative

tory across the southern border into Kharkov Province. Traveling through Kharkov and the D on region, the rebels led by Kolesnikov were able to build up strength once more, and in February 1921 they returned to Voronezh, occupying Kolesnikov’s native village, Staraia Kolitva, on 5 February.117 Kolesnikov’s force caused considerable disarray in Voronezh, where regional Red Arm y commanders had sought to institute a variety o f the occupation strat­ egy by stationing small armed units in strategic locations. This occupation was geared more toward maintaining stability rather than counterinsurgency and re­ lied upon reserve m ilitary units to provide a visible presence rather than active defense.118 Kolesnikov’s arrival in Voronezh being the first major challenge local military commanders had been forced to address, not only was coordination be­ tween dislocated government forces found wanting, but also the provincial com ­ m and lacked any viable cavalry force with w hich to pursue Kolesnikov’s rebel






as nearly all local cavalry units had been transferred to Tambov in January.119 Attempts to organize a Red Arm y pursuit force encountered persistent difficul­ ties over the course o f February, and the consequence was a string o f successes by Kolesnikov, occupying the uezd towns o f Kalach and Novokhopersk as the force traveled northward toward the Tambov border.120Eventually, a pursuit force on a smaller scale than originally intended was formed under the command o f I. N. Mikhailov-Berezovskii, although this “ flying cavalry squadron,” as it was known, engaged the insurgents under Kolesnikov too late to enable the Voronezh author­ ities to deal with the rebellion within their own borders. O nly a couple o f days after the formation o f Mikhailov-Berezovskii’s pursuit force, Kolesnikov crossed into Tambov Province with a contingent o f some 1,500 men on horseback. It is not known if Kolesnikov’s original intention had been to link up with the Partisan Army. Certainly the Partisan Arm y had no apparent plans in this regard. But when, on 26 February, Kolesnikov’s men cooperated with the Third Partisan Brigade o f the Tenth Volche-Karachan Regiment in an attack on the railway sta­ tion at Ternovka, the event was heralded as a major watershed. Gubarev, the chief o f the First Partisan Arm y headquarters, wrote an announcement o f the develop­ ment for all partisan units, explaining that “Kolesnikov’s purpose in our region is to link up with the armies o f the Tambov region in order to resolve some common m ilitary objectives.” 121 The same day, the provincial committee o f the STK an­ nounced that Kolesnikov’s arrival in Tam bov represented “a historic turning point” for the anti-Soviet m ovem ent that dem anded heightened urgency and commitment from partisan representatives and village communities so that the m om ent was not wasted. In a circular instruction, the provincial committee or­

Claiming the Initiative


dered all committees to take all decisive measures in the pursuit of our revolutionary work, and in particular to maintain communications [between STKs, Partisan Army units] on an exceptionally high level such that not one hour or one minute is wasted. This includes attention to the time required to receive and deliver packets, as well as to ensure that materials are delivered in their entirety. In order to maintain this high level of communications, all committees are ordered to mobilize the healthiest and fastest horses from civilian owners, as well as to mobilize the most reliable and energetic persons for communications duties. Execute these orders in accordance with the needs of revolutionary times. Those suspected of incompetence and negligence in this connection will be punished in accordance with revolutionary justice.122 Kolesnikov’s arrival was not simply expedient for the leaders o f the rebellion in Tambov, providing circumstances in which renewed appeals for m ilitancy and commitment could be delivered to the rural population o f southern Tambov. By every indication, they genuinely believed that Kolesnikov’s appearance in Tambo v constituted a chance to join two major constituents in the broad popular movement against the Soviet regime. The importance they ascribed to Kolesnikov and his rebel arm y was quickly manifested in the decision by the senior command-ers o f the First Partisan Arm y to appoint Kolesnikov overall commander o f the army, replacing Boguslavskii, who was made chief o f staff o f the First Army, with Gubarev yielding his post to become Boguslavskii’s lieutenant. Kolesnikov’s men from Voronezh were integrated into the Partisan Arm y as the First Boguchar Regiment.123 O n the surface, the decision o f Partisan Arm y leaders to embrace Kolesnikov to this extent appears puzzling. Although the rebels had their scouts throughout the extended region, including Voronezh and northern portions o f the Don terri­ tory, there is litde evidence that the Partisan Arm y was very familiar with Kolesnikov before his sudden appearance in Tambov in February. Kolesnikov was, in fact, forced out o f Voronezh by the intensified pressure applied by the Red Arm y once it managed to organize effectively in the latter part o f February. Yet Kolesnikov was greeted as more than an equal when he finally made contact with rebel com ­ manders o f the Partisan Arm y in Tambov. Despite their continued success with the guerrilla tactics adopted by the Partisan Arm y and with the rapid expansion o f the STK network, the insurgents in Tambov desperately needed indications that concrete progress was being made, and Kolesnikov’s arrival was taken as a har­ binger o f precisely such progress in the partisan movement.


Claiming the Initiative

Kolesnikov’s personal credibility was augmented by claims he and his men reg­ ularly made regarding their links with other anti-Soviet rebels, most significandy, that they were active members o f the insurgent army led by Nester Makhno, pos­ sibly the most famous anti-Soviet rebel o f the civil war period.124 It is not known if Kolesnikov had had contact with Makhno during December and January before his return to Voronezh Province, but it is not unreasonable to assume that some contact had been made, for M akhno at this time was him self seeking to establish contact with other anti-Soviet rebels to the north o f his base in eastern Ukraine.125 Regardless, the alleged contact with Makhno, even if indirect, proved to be a valu­ able morale-boosting development, as the legend o f Makhno and his exploits in Ukraine was already established in the popular m ythology o f the revolutionary era. Certainly the leaders o f the Partisan Arm y pinned considerable hope on fu­ ture contact with Makhno, and if one o f Antonov’s many girlfriends can be con­ sidered authoritative in this regard, even the overall commander o f the Partisan A rm y spoke openly o f his faith that the insurgents in Tam bov would soon be joined by the Ukrainian rebels led by M akhno.126 The appeal o f association with M akhno’s name finds further evidence in the very STK circular announcing Kolesnikov’s arrival in Tambov in which the rebel commander from Voronezh is introduced as an “emissary from Makhno.” 127 This appeal endured throughout the final months o f the Tambov insurgency and grew in prominence as the rebels became more and more desperate.128 “ Desperate,” however, did not yet characterize the circumstances surrounding the insurgents in Tambov in February and early March. Their awareness o f the developments in Moscow, Petrograd, and Kronstadt was fed by an intelligence network that was not exclusively focused on rumors and reports o f mysterious Ukrainian anarchists.129 Established contacts with PSR activists and civilian trav­ elers between M oscow and Tambov kept the insurgent leaders inform ed o f the worker demonstrations and the sailors’ m utiny at Kronstadt, and inform ation regarding the other “fronts” o f the anti-Soviet movement remained the focus o f Partisan Arm y interrogations o f captured Red A rm y soldiers and Com m unist Party m em bers.130 W hat is more, their interrogations o f captured government troops forged confidence that the Red Arm y’s counterinsurgency campaign could falter on the crumbling morale o f their own troops. Red Arm y soldiers were the main target group for rebel propaganda in the spring o f 1921. It had already be­ come standard practice for the Partisan Arm y to recruit captured Red Arm y ser­ vicemen, who were not only interrogated by rebel intelligence agents but also exposed to presentations by Partisan Arm y and STK agitators on the current p o ­ litical and strategic situation, as well as the grievances and objectives that ani­

Claiming the Initiative


mated the insurgency. If the prisoners still desired to return to their units rather than join the Partisan Army, they were allowed to do so, but only if they gave their word to distribute rebel propaganda among their fellow Red Arm y servicemen.131 In a very real sense, the Partisan Arm y’s treatment o f prisoners contributed signifi­ cantly to their cause. Appeals to “ Red Arm y conscripts” emphasized the natural solidarity such sol­ diers should have felt with their peasant brethren in the Partisan Army, and it pointedly countered state propaganda that sought to marginalize the rebels: Comrade conscripts! It is time for our shared indignation to find a common voice and to unite behind the common slogan: “Death to the Communists, and long live the general armed struggle of the laboring peasantry and all the oppressed against the Communist-aggressors!” We the peasants have already done this and have taken to arms. The hypocritecommunists call us bandits, hoping to degrade us in the eyes of our brothers and to drive the laboring people into the struggle against us. Do not believe the scoundrels, as they unscrupulously lie like a Yid lies to swindle a lady of her last kopeck. We are not bandits, but are instead the armed rebellious people— the people’s army. This is why we appeal to you now, our conscript friends.132 The appeals also sought to capitalize on the known hardships endured by Red Arm y soldiers, both during the civil war generally and, in particular, on the front against the insurgents. In asking conscripted soldiers to “turn away for a minute from the nightmare and the feast o f horrors” o f civil war, rebel propaganda drew attention to the material conditions o f the Red Arm y units and how the soldiers were being driven to sickness and hunger by the state while their own families were being similarly victimized by the Soviet government.133 Such appeals were in­ formed both by intelligence drawn from the partisans’ network o f “spies” sent to investigate Red Arm y morale in the active units and garrisons and by the increas­ ing incidence o f Red A rm y looting and “ self-provisioning” that victim ized the civilian population o f Tambov.134 Supplying Red Arm y units with provisions had been a problem for state and army officials from the very beginning o f the counterinsurgency effort in August and September 1920, but as the arm y presence increased, those problems only grew more acute and created major com plications regarding discipline within those units and relations between the state and the village communities in the conflict zone. Almost immediately after provincial officials announced the end o f requisitioning, with the evident backing o f military commanders in Tambov, those same officials began voicing concerns regarding the consequences o f this political


Claiming the Initiative

decision on the practical necessity o f supplying armed troops with food and fod­ der. O n li February, the Tambov Presidium telegraphed M oscow explaining that the province did not have the resources to sustain a soldier population— active and reserve— that had swelled to exceed 108,000 men. Claim ing that hunger had already been reported among the units, it demanded that the central government find adequate reserves o f grain to deliver to Tambov.135 (This was despite the claim in the 9 February announcement that deliveries were assured.) It had already be­ come commonplace for official updates on the political situation in the province to combine reports o f rebel looting and destruction o f property with details o f similar abuses perpetrated by Red Arm y units suffering shortages o f food and sup­ plies.136 On 13 March, Com mander Pavlov was forced to issue an order threaten­ ing any soldier who looted civilian property with sum m ary execution.137 This order, however, had little effect on the conduct o f m ilitary units facing extreme shortages and hunger. W ith regular demands from both sides, the net result was the exhaustion o f the civilian population. W hile not necessarily an entirely negative development for the Soviet government, this was not part o f anyone’s strategy for pacifying the insurgency in Tambov. Certainly members o f the provincial administration hoped that the decision to end requisitioning, followed by the announcement o f the tax in kind, would soften peasant attitudes toward the Soviet regime. That hope was quickly extinguished once it became obvious that the military would have to rely upon local resources to supply its men. To build up some reserves o f grain, the provincial Food Commissariat was forced to disregard its much vaunted public announcement and to continue grain requisitioning in certain areas throughout much o f February and M arch.138 By April, it became official policy to permit the Red Arm y Supply Commission to conduct requisitioning within the burgeoning zone o f the occupation, albeit not to levels above the original procurement targets o f the razverstka.139 This proviso was o f little value to Red Arm y units facing what was universally described as a “catastrophic” situation regarding food supply.140The continuation o f sanctioned requisitioning was politically damaging enough in the eyes o f local officials but was still insufficient to meet the needs o f the occupying forces, who were forced to carry out their own ad-hoc procurement operations outside the control o f the Red Arm y Supply Com m ission and the Food Commissariat, undermining sin­ cere hopes for peace even further.141 Eggs and dairy products, which were still sub­ ject to official state procurem ent despite the announced end o f the razverstka, were a prime target for hungry Red Arm y units because they could be consumed immediately. Other easy targets were perhaps even more damaging to the local

Claiming the Initiative


econom y and to the counterinsurgency campaign, such as when Red Arm y units sought out villages that were known to have established sowing committees from which reserves o f grain could be more easily confiscated.142 Antonov-Ovseenko, writing in early April, complained to Moscow that looting as a practice was “en­ trenched” among Red Arm y troops that, in his words, had been “put out to pas­ ture” in the Tam bov countryside.143 An attendant phenom enon was open indiscipline, as hungry soldiers ignored the demands for restraint issued by their commanders. But just as often commanders turned a blind eye to the looting or even openly engaged in it themselves as a necessary evil.144 The developing food supply crisis for the occupying forces in Tam bov recalled the com m ent about Napoleon s armies during the Peninsular War o f the early nineteenth century: “Spain is a place where small armies are beaten and large ones starve.” Certainly the Partisan Arm y and STK sought to make as much political capi­ tal as possible from the frequently abusive conduct o f government forces in the countryside. Efforts to organize aid for households that suffered at the hands o f “red bandits” could only be on a limited scale, however, especially as the Partisan Arm y itself suffered many o f the same hardships— albeit on a less critical level— occasionally producing similar abuses by partisan soldiers against the civilian pop­ ulation o f the villages.145 The number o f raids for food that could be made on state and collective farms by the Partisan Arm y was finite and provided dim in­ ishing returns, and as the regionwide provisions crisis grew more critical, the po­ litical principles o f even the most “honorable” partisan could be compromised as the burden shifted entirely onto the village communities. The overall consequence, however, favored neither side in the short term. The practical complications cre­ ated by an increased (and increasing) Red Arm y presence in Tambov eliminated the immediate prospects o f a transformation (perelom) in the attitudes o f the vil­ lage communities toward the Soviet state following the announced end o f requi­ sitioning and the decisions o f the Tenth Party Congress in Petrograd. The conduct o f Red Arm y soldiers belied the state’s public pronouncements that conjured up images o f the forces o f order rounding up bandit outlaws. A nd the continued practice o f requisitioning foodstuffs, both through official and unofficial chan­ nels, betrayed the claims o f government authorities that the Soviet state now rec­ ognized the legitimate grievances o f the beleaguered civilian population and had changed course in order to redress those grievances. Yet, for the rebels in Tambov, the initiative was rapidly slipping from their grasp as the context for their insurgency changed. The onset o f spring had predictably brought practical anxieties into focus for village com m unities facing the real prospect o f hunger and starvation. The state, recognizing the need to address these


Claiming the Initiative

anxieties on a much larger scale, had shown a measure o f flexibility and, in signi­ ficantly changing its policies, sought to speak for the grievances o f the rural pop­ ulation while also recognizing their anxieties about the future in a manner that only intensified the challenge facing the rebels. To sustain support for their rebel­ lion against the Soviet state, the partisan leaders in Tambov would need to con­ vince their own active followers and the broader civilian population that the movement continued to progress. Although the Partisan Arm y had managed to survive intensified efforts in March by the Red Arm y to encircle and destroy its main forces, there were clear signs that mere survival was not enough to maintain support or even sympathy for the movement. There were already worrying signs, such has when an entire Partisan Arm y regiment surrendered to Red Arm y au­ thorities in mid-March, that the rebellion was in danger o f “demobilizing” unless it could adapt to the changing seasonal context and the initiatives o f the Soviet government.146 Certainly the themes that emerged from rebel pronouncements at the time— emphasizing the wider context for the rebellion and the “concrete” links being established with other fronts o f anti-Bolshevism— indicated that the Partisan Arm y and STK recognized the need for movement and progress as spring approached. However, rhetoric alone could go only so far in managing public opinion while the balance o f forces in the countryside was shifting irrevocably to the government’s favor.




February 1921 appeal issued by the Soviet government in Tambov to ac­


tive insurgents asked supporters of the insurgency a series of questions high­

lighting the discrepancy between the inflated claims of the rebel leaders and the “facts” on the ground. “Is it possible that you don't understand,” it asked insur­ gents, “that if this war continues a further two or three months then all the local working folk will be threatened with poverty, hunger, and death?” The costs of continued resistance were set alongside an image of the leaders o f the rebellion that emphasized manipulation and lies. “Could it be that you still fail to under­ stand that Antonov and all the bandit chieftains [v o zh a ki] have fallen into utter confusion and do not know themselves what to do further and where to take their insurgency, and that they seek comfort only in gluttony and alcohol[?] ” But after several months o f conflict, during which time the Partisan Army had effectively controlled the countryside o f the southern portion of Tambov Province but had singularly failed to expand beyond its borders, perhaps the following question would have achieved some resonance among the rural population and the active insurgents: “Is it not clear to you that Antonov does not have a mighty army (for



Between Ambition and Necessity

if he did, w ouldn’t he long ago have seized a m ajor town such as Tam bov or Kirsanov, instead o f just marking time for the last five months)?” 1 This question m ay have hung in the air during the following weeks. After an intense period o f engagements with Red Arm y units in March, the Partisan Arm y was seemingly exhausted and fractured into smaller units, as well as consider­ ably low on ammunition. But having survived, sometimes narrowly, the Parti­ san A rm y continued to boast confidence in their strength and in the prospects for ultimate victory.2 One o f their proclamations insisted in March 1921: Now, comrade partisans, it should be clear to you all that the hated Communists are living through their final days. Therefore in these last few days of the struggle, in giving assistance to our comrades to the north, south, and elsewhere, we should energetically follow the activities of the Communists, stay always on the alert and coolly await the time when we are able to deliver the decisive blow to the impudent Communists. Always be prepared for the moment when we must deliver such a blow, because for them it will ultimately be fatal. This blow will force them to reconsider their approach to the peasant movement and will force them to realize that they are ultimately powerless to suppress the insurgency.3 This prom ise was joined w ith further news from “other fronts,” particularly Moscow, Petrograd, and Kronstadt. But the promise o f some sort o f breakthrough was not entirely focused on these other fronts. Recent developments that had been publicized widely within rebel territory had not proven as substantial and lasting as had been claimed. A prime example was Ivan Kolesnikov’s arrival in Tam bov from Voronezh, which was hailed as a significant developm ent in the unification o f m ajor anti-Bolshevik forces. Yet, despite early indications that the unification was authentic and that the event would invigorate rebel activities, Kolesnikov’s arrival on the scene was disruptive for the Partisan Army, and his stay in Tam bov was short-lived.4Another setback for the Partisan Arm y came in late M arch 1921, when the governm ent in Tam bov confirm ed the claim o f its first scalp from among the original conspirators behind the rebellion. Petr Tokmakov, who had not only served in the Kirsanov militia with Antonov, but was one o f the founding members o f the fam ous druzhina o f 1919-1920, had finally died on 23 March from a head wound suffered the previous day in a battle with Red Arm y soldiers in the village o f Belomestnaia Dvoinia (Tambov uezd).5 It is impossible to evaluate the impact o f the loss o f Tokmakov, the commander o f the Second Partisan Army, for the rebel m ovem ent and its leaders. It was undoubtedly a set­ back, however, not only a personal loss for Aleksandr Antonov and others who had known Tokm akov for some time, but also a tangible blow to the Partisan

Between Ambition and Necessity


Arm y’s credibility. At a time when the Partisan Arm y appeared to be struggling to survive, they required a demonstration o f their own capabilities and resolve, at the very least to revive a spirit o f defiance that had been flagging in the face o f mounting pressure from the Red Arm y and Communist Party in Tambov Province.

TWO BATTLES: RASSKAZOV® AND KIRSANOV, APRIL 1921 Believing that the operations against the m ain Partisan A rm y forces in March had significantly weakened the rebellion, provincial officials received a damaging reminder o f the rebels’ renewed ambitions. Having regrouped in southwestern Kirsanov uezd, once more exploiting the tendency o f m ilitary officials to abdicate responsibility when the enemy was possibly located outside their formal juris­ diction, Antonov was able to amass over 5,000 fighters from among the fractured units that survived the battles o f the previous m onth.6 A series o f raids in early April against Red A rm y units in the area brought lim ited rewards but further aided the rebels by attracting more locals to the ranks o f active insurgents.7 Then, on 10 April, came a major attack on Rasskazovo— one o f the larger villages in the province and the home o f some o f the more sophisticated cottage industries, n o ­ tably textiles, that operated in Tambov. The “Tambov Manchester,” as Rasskazovo was rather fancifully called by provin­ cial notables,8had never before been occupied by the rebels, largely owing to the strong presence o f armed government forces garrisoned there to protect the range o f enterprises still operating in the village.9 But Rasskazovo was far from being a pro-Soviet stronghold, even if it was hom e to a proto-working-class population employed in several small mills, tanneries, and distilleries. Workers had repeat­ edly expressed their discontent with Soviet authorities, particularly regarding food supply, and strikes had recently been broken up by agents o f the Cheka in Rasskazovo, with sixteen people arrested.10Recent attempts to hold nonparty con­ ferences in the village had degenerated into chaos, as individuals identified by government officials as PSR supporters virtually took over the assemblies with anti-Soviet speeches and predictions o f the demise o f the regim e.11 It was likely that Antonov and his associates were aware o f the situation in Rasskazovo, both the disposition o f the local population and the state o f the Red Arm y forces in the village.12 Rasskazovo was the base for the Volga Infantry Brigade that had arrived in January from Saratov. It also had one further infantry com pany from the Second Cheka Regiment, a platoon o f machine gunners, and one unit o f armed C o m ­


Between Ambition and Necessity

m unist Party members. W hen the Partisan A rm y began to move on Rasskazovo on 10-11 April, they undertook a diversionary attack on the village o f NizhneSpasskoe, to the southwest. This attack, carried out by a small num ber o f Antonov’s men, prompted the m ilitary commanders in Rasskazovo to scramble one unit— the Com m unist Party members— to reinforce the Red A rm y in Nizhne-Spasskoe. O ne hour later, the Partisan A rm y attacked Rasskazovo from the west and south. The forces in the village almost instantly gave up on a de­ fense, with many abandoning their weapons and positions, first finding safety in a nearby forest before retreating and regrouping at the railway station o f Platonovka to the east. The alarm had been sounded by the time the government forces had quit Rasskazovo, and Red A rm y airplanes were already in the air to scout the situation while armored cars were preparing to leave Tambov.13 For three hours, the Partisan A rm y occupied Rasskazovo. A Cheka bulletin written several weeks later described what took place: On the night of n April [in Rasskazovo], as a matter of first priority, he [Antonov] ordered his men to begin pillaging the factories and mills, and joined by the local kulaks and other anti-Soviet elements they succeeded in looting completely the local tannery, and then they set upon the Orzhevskii distillery (vinzavod), where the bandits drank themselves drunk and began to fire their weapons in wild celebration, killing two local guards in the process.14 However, the evaluation o f senior officials in both the Red Arm y and the provin­ cial adm inistration was quite different. According to both Antonov-Ovseenko and the Red A rm y officer Ivan Trutko, the raid on Rasskazovo had a very specific purpose— to replenish the Partisan A rm y’s supply o f arms and am m unition. W hile the figures for the losses differ in each account, they represent the largest single seizure o f m ilitary supplies by the rebels: one artillery gun and between 200-300 shells, 11 machine guns, and nearly 400 rifles with over 100,000 rounds o f ammunition. In addition, the rebels seized nearly 80 telephones with over 50 verst o f cable. And, o f course, there was all the food, clothing, and drink they could carry— either in their carts, on their backs, or in their bellies. Such a haul would have been possible only if Soviet authorities in the province had believed Rasskazovo to be a village safe from rebel attack.15 Despite this setback, provincial officials still expressed confidence that the re­ bellion was only further discrediting itself with these raids— that in spite o f the m aterial gains represented by the seizure o f m unitions the rebels were only “marking tim e” with continued attacks on weakened rural outposts. In a small

Between Ambition and Necessity


Crash site o f a Red Arm y airplane with local onlookers in the background, 1921. The use o f airplanes by the Red Army against the rebels in Tambov was mainly restricted to scouting operations. Such operations proved o f limited value to the Red Army, however, and these exceptionally fragile airplanes frequently drew fire from the rebels. At least one senior army officer (Tishchenko) was captured and killed by insurgents after his plane was shot down. Photograph courtesy o f the Tambovskii Kraevedcheskii Muzei

detail that is suggestive in this regard, a Partisan Army protocol, dated 14 April, describing a meeting o f senior figures behind the rebellion contains the issue of the continued overall command o f Aleksandr Antonov. The protocol notes that after a vote, confidence in Antonov’s leadership was reaffirmed.16It is impossible to know whether this reflected the apparent overall direction o f the insurgency or was instead a matter of personalities or even physical health. But the issue of the current legitimacy of the insurgency appeared to be of growing importance. “Among the peasantry,” wrote one Cheka evaluation, “there is much talk of the ultimate impotence o f the Antonovist army, and in conversations one regularly hears ‘that that Antonov is always just found in the heart o f the countryside, where he can carry on knowing he has nothing to fear from us peasants, but in the towns and in other places where the real Red Army forces are located, he is to­ tally afraid to show his face [on tnda i nosa boitsia p o k a z a t ’] ” 17 Using guerrilla war as a long-term strategy to weaken and ultimately discredit an enemy government was a principle not entirely lost on the Partisan Army rebels, whose instructions refer to the relative advantages of “partisan” warfare against the more conventional “positional” warfare in a struggle with superior state forces.18Yet it is clear that in the spring o f 1921 Partisan Army leaders felt a strong pressure to “progress” with their insurgency in a way that is not uncom-


Between Ambition and Necessity

m on for those who must both maintain m ilitary effectiveness and popular legit­ im a cy 19 The Soviet government and Red Arm y had possessed the initiative for m any weeks, on both the m ilitary and political fronts, and rebel leaders were pressed to reassert themselves in the conflict. In this regard, the success o f the raid on Rasskazovo was likely to have boosted their confidence and prom pted them to target more ambitious objectives.20W ithin days o f completing the raid on Rasskazovo, the Partisan A rm y under Antonov was planning its first major attack on a provincial town, the uezd seat o f Kirsanov.21 However, the decision to strike on Kirsanov was not an act o f hubris on the part o f A ntonov and his fellow rebel com m anders.22 T h ey rem ained well in ­ formed, as in previous raids during 1921, o f the defensive capabilities o f the town. Kirsanov was not nearly as vulnerable as it had been in the first weeks o f the in­ surgency in August and September 1920, when there were only some forty armed Com m unist Party members in the town scrambling to resist an expected assault by peasant insurgents and anxious officials were pleading with recuperating Red Arm y soldiers in the local hospital to get out o f their beds to shore up the town’s defenses.23 Since that period o f apparent helplessness at the start o f the insurgency, Kirsanov had acquired a siege m entality that was only heightened by the influx o f Com m unist Party refugees from the surrounding countryside who had evac­ uated their posts in the villages and volosts o f the uezd and arrived with their families and possessions. As in other major towns caught in the territory o f the insurgency, such refugees were an object both o f pity and concern (but som e­ times utter indifference) for state officials, who could hardly provide for them. There was little or no provision made for housing these refugees, and little food or employment could be found for them.24 For m any o f the men, one o f the only outlets for activity was rudim entary m ilitary training and volunteer service in the growing number o f Com m unist Party defense militias and “ Units o f Special Assignment” (known by the acronym C h O N ).25 Regular Red A rm y units previ­ ously assigned to garrisons in towns such as Kirsanov were steadily being given active duty patrolling the countryside, leaving the towns to organize their own de­ fenses from among local Communist Party members and others loyal to the gov­ ernment.26 Preparations for an assault on Kirsanov began soon after the success o f the Partisan Arm y in Rasskazovo. Following their raid for supplies on Rasskazovo, rebel forces once again amassed north o f the Kirsanov-Tambov railway line, m ov­ ing between Morshansk and Kozlov uezds to avoid engagements with the Red Arm y cavalry forces in the region. Antonov’s main force was joined by two other major rebel groups— that led by the Kozlov uezd rebel named Karas’ (identified

Between Ambition and Necessity


later as V. V. Nikitin-Korolev), and another led by the rebel V. F. Selianskii, also from the central part o f Tambov Province.27 According to a sum m ary report o f a m onth later by Antonov-O vseenko, this m eeting in the village o f Kamenka (Tambov uezd) secured the integration o f Selianskii’s “northern” arm y and the “western” army o f Karas’ with Antonov’s own force in preparation for a major op­ eration. According to Antonov-Ovseenko, the rebels had for the first time aban­ doned the limited territorial basis for individual rebel activities in favor o f large strategic amassments for specific operations.28 O ne o f the rebels, a twenty-one-year-old from Tambov uezd named Petr Ivan­ nikov, later told Red A rm y interrogators that the meeting in Kamenka formally involved six o f the surviving Partisan A rm y regiments. Ivannikov him self was in the Kozlov-based force led by Karas’, although he had joined the insurgency in his native region o f Abakum ovka in Decem ber 1920. Ivannikov’s regiment, along with the others assembled in Kamenka in April 1921, underwent a brief “ inspec­ tion” by Antonov and other Partisan Arm y commanders, after which they were treated to rousing speeches about the political objectives o f the insurgency and the nature o f the present strategic situation. Antonov him self evidently spoke o f the plans to attack Kirsanov, and he made each unit o f insurgents vow that they would fight to the bitter end. Supplies o f guns and am m unition were distributed among the soldiers before they broke up into three “colum ns” to undertake the assault.29 As in the attack on Rasskazovo, the Partisan A rm y sought to em ploy diver­ sionary tactics to draw Red Arm y forces out o f the region o f the intended target. This involved two colum ns o f rebel soldiers traveling north across the m ain Tam bov-Kirsanov railway line toward the northern border o f Tam bov uezd.30 The intention was to draw the attention o f government forces toward Morshansk uezd. The movement o f such large rebel forces in this direction appeared to have worked, as the alarm was raised in scouting reports filed on 22 April o f an im ­ minent attack by the Partisan Arm y on the town o f Morshansk— within two days, according to one report.31 After the colum n led by Antonov met up once more with Selianskii’s group near the village o f Pakhotnyi Ugol, they changed their tack dramatically and quickly moved southeast in the direction o f Kirsanov. In the village o f Kobiaki, only some ten kilometers from the town itself, all three groups o f Partisan A rm y forces converged to launch their assault.32 It is difficult to determine with any accuracy the strength o f the Partisan Arm y force that ultimately assembled at Kobiaki on 24 April 1921. Red Arm y prisoners attested to the fact that Antonov’s force that attacked Rasskazovo only a fortnight before was somewhere in the region o f 5,000-6,000 strong.33Added to this would


Between Ambition and Necessity

be the two regiments under the leadership o f Karas’, estimated b y observers at nearly 1,500 men, and the force under Selianskii, for which there are no contem ­ porary figures.34 Estimates by eyewitnesses many years later describe the overall numbers o f the Partisan Arm y in Kobiaki as between 5,000 and io,ooo.35 N ot all, however, w ould take part in the assault on Kirsanov. Leaders o f the Partisan A rm y forces in Kobiaki were possibly aware o f the fact that the main garrisoned unit in Kirsanov, an infantry brigade from Saratov, was being transferred to Rasskazovo as part o f a standard change in assignment. How­ ever, the Red Arm y unit assigned to take over the Kirsanov garrison (another in­ fantry brigade, this time from Moscow) had only just left Tam bov on 23 April and was no m ore than halfway to Kirsanov on the eve o f the assault as they marched to their new assignment.36 W hat the Partisan Arm y commanders did not know was that the authorities in Kirsanov were fully aware o f the presence o f rebel forces and that they were quickly setting up the town’s defenses as well as calling on whatever Red Arm y or government troops were available to the east o f the town.37 M unicipal officials sounded the alarm on the evening o f 24 April, calling all available Com m unist Party and trade union members to arm themselves and to take up positions in strategic points within the town. One party member, Sergei Pomazov, later wrote that he and others feared that the Partisan Arm y and its supporters had a kind o f anti-Com m unist “St. Bartholom ew’s Night massacre” planned for Kirsanov, set to coincide with Palm Sunday on 25 April.38They must have felt vulnerable when they saw that their fate rested on the defense m ounted by the 500 or so Communists who turned out for the emergency mobilization, re­ inforced only by the local m ounted militia force and a single Cheka infantry unit. That evening another infantry unit arrived in Kirsanov, just hours before the as­ sault. The numbers, however, remained unimpressive. Their real advantage was in the weapons at their disposal. The government possessed two machine g u n m ounted armored cars and several more machine guns with a plentiful supply o f ammunition. Every progovernment fighter was supplied with a rifle and bullets. According to one source, the defenders in Kirsanov also possessed an airplane, al­ though how this would be o f use is difficult to ascertain, and it played no active part in the events that followed.39They concentrated their defenses at four points in the town— at the entry from the north, within the grounds o f the cathedral, at the cemetery, and on the street along the riverfront on the western edge o f town. Believing that the rebels could attack from any o f three different directions, the men in Kirsanov felt they had to distribute their forces across these four points.40 W hen the attack commenced, it became apparent that the rebels had decided

Between Ambition and Necessity


not to throw all their forces at Kirsanov. Instead, only the two regiments under the leadership o f Karas’ took part in the assault when it began in the m iddle o f the night on 25 April 1921.41 Evidently not anticipating organized resistance, the rebel soldiers charged toward the center o f the town on horseback (many riding bareback, with others using ordinary pillows for saddles) and armed with rifles and sawed-off shotguns. According to nearly all the memoirists who wrote about the assault, the result was a massacre, with m ost damage being done b y the m a­ chine guns at the cemetery. A n initial charge was thrown into confusion by the machine gun fire, and after a brief retreat, a second assault similarly fell into dis­ array when the two armored cars emerged from the m unicipal fire station to re­ inforce the machine guns at the cemetery. W hen the rebel soldiers under Karas’ finally retreated, less than two hours after the start o f the fighting, they were chased b y the m ounted Kirsanov militia, joined by the com m ander o f the ar­ m ored cars, Vas’kin, who took up the pursuit on a m otorcycle. According to Gavril Zaitsev, “after the battle practically the entire field that stretches out toward Kobiaki was covered with the bodies o f people and horses.”42 According to both eyewitnesses from the government side and from the rebel side, A ntonov him self did not take part in the assault, preferring to stay behind in Kobiaki to “oversee” the attack. W hen news arrived o f the defeat, the rebels quit Kobiaki, and it was only then, after Kirsanov officials had raised the alarm, that the Red A rm y forces patrolling the countryside appeared on the scene to pursue the rebels toward their stronghold o f southwestern Kirsanov uezd. While the pursuit force under the cavalry com mander Dm itrenko inflicted no further significant damage, the losses sustained by the rebels in the failed assault were, by all accounts, substantial. According to Antonov-Ovseenko, the rebels left behind some twenty machine guns and one light artillery gun, but the num ber o f dead and wounded sustained by the Partisan Arm y on 25 April is unknown.43The great victory the Partisan Arm y leaders had desired— one that would have brought the seizure o f another cache o f arms and munitions, the “liberation” o f rebel pris­ oners, and the prestige o f having actually occupied one o f the administrative cen­ ters o f the province, one that m any people, especially those in the Tam bov Com m unist Party and administration, believed w ould be the turning point in the armed conflict— had ended in a significant defeat.44

CONTINUED RECRIMINATIONS» APRIL 1921 The successful defense o f Kirsanov had been fortunate for the Soviet government.


Between Ambition and Necessity

The town could well have been taken if the Partisan Arm y had attacked with the full strength o f what was reported to be their amassed forces. Antonov-Ovseenko had underscored the need for a coherent strategy in dealing with the insurgency in March, and while significant advances had been made in formulating such a strategy, the now familiar problem o f overstretched m ilitary and political re­ sources only gained further clarity.45 Since January 1921, the deploym ent o f Red A rm y forces under General Pavlov in Tam bov had increased dramatically, far outstripping any o f the estimated gains made by the Partisan A rm y during the pe­ riod.46 But the demands o f pursuing an effective and balanced counterinsurgency operation— one that sought to separate the rebels from the partisan population, as Antonov-Ovseenko desired— required more troops in higher concentrations to provide safety for the village communities in the territory o f the insurgency.47 The shortcomings were revealed in the case o f Kirsanov, where the local garrison was severely reduced in size in order to deploy more troops to strategic locations, effectively spreading the available forces thinly across the countryside and leav­ ing the task o f pursuing rebel forces to the limited m obile forces under the Red A rm y com m and in the province. The response o f the Partisan Arm y— to con­ centrate their forces into larger amassments for m ore ambitious operations— had overwhelm ed the Red A rm y in Rasskazovo and could very well have done so in Kirsanov. M ore troops would be needed for the oft-m entioned occupation to be effectively realized in Tambov. The consequences for the Red Arm y in April 1921 were a series o f defeats o f m ilitary units by much larger rebel forces, at a time when provincial officials and members o f the Plenipotentiary Com m ission were optim istic that political re­ forms w ould quickly have a positive impact on the popular standing o f the So­ viet government.48 Such vulnerability bred considerable dissatisfaction among commanders and political officials alike. One o f the most bitter episodes involved the arrest o f Georgii Russov, brigade com mander with the Third Infantry Regi­ ment, based in the First M ilitary Sector. Following the surrender o f one o f the bat­ talions under his authority in the area o f Inzhavino, Russov was relieved o f his com m and and arrested for defeatism and suspected ties with the rebels.49Not only had Russov allegedly failed to respond to warnings from local Com m unist Party members that the battalion would be attacked by rebels, but also the Red Arm y men under his com mand had failed to put up satisfactory resistance, indicative o f a weak “pro-Soviet spirit”— a failing attributed to correspondingly weak leade






Besides the circumstances o f the surrender o f the battalion— which took place on

Between Ambition and Necessity


9-10 April, when the Partisan Arm y attacked Rasskazovo— the fact that Russov had previously been an officer in the tsarist arm y was central to the investigation by tribunal officials. Russov’s attem pt to defend him self against the allegations revealed m uch about the difficulties facing Red A rm y units in the field in the spring o f 1921 and m any o f the frictions that were developing between the arm y and the provincial administration and within the Red A rm y itself. In a long letter to tribunal inves­ tigators, Russov explained the circumstances surrounding the battalion’s surren­ der and the rationale for his decisions at the time. Russov stated that he was skeptical o f the warnings from the village o f Parevka given by local Com m unist Party members that the battalion was under threat, since these warnings claimed that a force o f over 9,000 rebels was descending on the battalion. Russov believed that this was a gross overestimate, som ething he and other Red A rm y com ­ manders had com e to expect o f local party members, whose ow n heightened sense o f insecurity had repeatedly prom pted them to “cry wolf,” wasting the m il­ itary’s time and resources.50M aking his own adjustments to the alarmist reports and estimating that the rebel force probably numbered 1,000-2,000 men, Russov believed that his battalion o f some 700 soldiers would be able to overcome them, given that most previous clashes had been short-lived and in keeping with the hitand-run tactics o f the Partisan Army. (Intelligence available to Russov stated that there were no m ore than 200 rebels in the Inzhavino region, and m ost recent clashes in the sector had involved only between 40 and 100 rebel fighters.) He also gave other reasons for not responding to the warning, such as the threat that diverting forces away from the headquarters in Inzhavino would have left it vul­ nerable (in case the attack on the battalion, or simply the warning itself, was part o f a diversion orchestrated by the Partisan Arm y), and also the lack o f cavalry at his disposal, making the regiment’s reaction time relatively slow. Most offensive from Russov’s point o f view was the charge that he and his fel­ low commanders did not do enough to cultivate a fighting spirit among the sol­ diers: As concerns the level of political education of the Red Army soldiers, the [investi­ gating] commission did not even bother to question the soldiers of the First Battalion themselves, all of whom fell prisoner to Antonov and all of whom, after being exposed to strong political agitation on the part of Antonov, returned to the fold with an even more intense hatred of the bandits than before. Did the commission even bother asking if a single one of these soldiers went over to the side of Antonov after falling prisoner? Not one of them did so.51


Between Ambition and Necessity

Sensing that he was being made a scapegoat for the failure o f the Red A rm y to master the strategic situation in March and April, Russov launched into his own bitter attack on his fellow officers. He stated that only two elements could possi­ bly have a vested interest in prolonging the war— the enemies he identified as the “ international bourgeoisie” and “careerists” in the Red Army. His invective was particularly focused on two o f his fellow officers— Petrovskii and Chaikovskii (the latter o f the Volga Infantry Brigade)— but he was generally scornful o f all those soldiers who saw the rebellion in Tambov as an opportunity to reap deco­ rations and commendations for heroism.52As an example, Russov contended that younger officers (in a way not unknown in armies the world over) routinely in­ flated the casualty figures for rebels following battles with Red A rm y soldiers they themselves had led, sometimes by as m uch as ten times the actual number:53 Those individuals who collect their medals and who are promoted to high-profile posts hardly grow more intelligent as a result, but on the contrary they only eventually bring more grave difficulties upon themselves and upon the exhausted proletariat. No medals or promotions are going to solve the banditry problem, but instead they only serve to make it worse, as was seen before we arrived, when some commander or other was awarded a gold decoration for the nonsensical boast that the insurgency was defeated, when in fact it was only beginning to lay down its roots.54 Russovs lengthy appeal com municated a strong sense o f indignation, as well as a note o f betrayal, as he had m ade a conscious choice in 1918 to join the Red Arm y and support the Soviet government, only to be continually suspected and victim ized for his past service in the tsarist army as a staff captain.55 The defeats suffered by the Red Arm y in Tambov, he believed, were owing to the unsound policies o f the Soviet government and the lack o f strong com m itm ent by the Red Army.56 Individuals such as he were not to blame, for they were being placed in an im possible situation. A nd the demands on the troops in Tam bov were in­ creasing all the time, as the designs for an effective counterinsurgency effort grew more and m ore ambitious. Casting Russov as a possible counterrevolutionary and defeatist revealed more than a conflict o f personalities and ambitions within the ranks o f the officer corps in Tambov. It fit in with a larger effort by government agents to uncover possible sources o f treachery believed to explain the recent and long-term failings o f the counterinsurgency effort. It was a widely held view that there was a degree o f com plicity in the behavior o f provincial administrators that w ould explain why the insurgency had grown to such a degree o f seriousness. The view was well ex-

Between Ambition and Necessity


pressed by a Red Arm y officer cadet, Fedor Liubkin, who returned to Kirsanov in the spring o f 1921 and was m oved to write directly to Lenin about what he saw in his native uezd: I w ent hom e for the holiday to find that all the forces in our Kirsanov uezd are being dom inated by the bandits, and that they are sim ply unable to be done with the rebellion. A band o f crim inals sim ply cannot raise an arm y o f 30,000 w ithout some sort o f sabotage going on. M any o f our C om m unist brethren have died, and all there is to answer for their sacrifice is the fact that A ntonov’s following has grown from no m ore than 10,000 to no fewer than 30,000___Moreover, it has becom e clear in recent tim es that local authorities even cooperate w ith the bandits, issuing them travel passes and identification papers and giving them passwords. People from am ong our ow n Soviet m ilitary servicem en are w orking w ith the bandits to return the proletariat to slavery.. . . It w ould be im possible for m e to w rite about everything I have seen here, so let m e leave you, C om rade Lenin, w ith this one request: p ay serious attention to w hat I have w ritten and to the need for us to uncover w ho am ong those sitting in the various departments and commissariats is a true defender o f the w orking people and w ho is a traitor.57

The existence o f “spies” and informants was by now well known, for rebel docu­ ments appeared to confirm that the Partisan Arm y and STK had sympathizers within government circles, including the m ilitary commissariat and the Cheka.58 Information such as this welcomed Antonov-Ovseenko when he arrived in Tam­ bov in February 1921 to take control o f the provincial administration and to over­ see the counterinsurgency effort. Vladim ir Antonov-Ovseenko always had a special interest in the secret police, the Cheka. W hile serving as provincial governor for a period after the brief o c­ cupation o f parts o f Tambov by the Whites in 1919-1920, he devoted considerable energy and attention to reorganizing the provincial Cheka at the cost o f attend­ ing to the pressing demands o f econom ic reconstruction and establishing popu­ lar political faith in the Soviet government.59 Arriving in Tam bov in the wake o f a defeat at the hands o f the Cossack General Mamontov, Antonov-Ovseenko ad­ dressed his duties as soviet executive chairman as a Chekist him self— the defeat, in his estimation, was a signal o f the failure o f the Soviet rearguard to hold, and the cause was not military disorganization but the failure o f political resolve. The instrum ent o f political fortification for the Soviet Republic, especially in the provinces, was the Cheka. Similarly, when Antonov-Ovseenko arrived in Tam bov for a second spell, this time as chairman o f the Plenipotentiary Com m ission, he was resolved to focus


Between Ambition and Necessity

once m ore on the insurgency in the province as a fundamentally political prob­ lem. In this, he eventually received the support o f M oscow and the Com m unist Party leadership, especially following their decisions in March to end forced req­ uisitioning and to loosen restrictions on private trade. A vigor that had been sorely lacking was brought to the government propaganda campaign, with the fundamental link between econom ic and political questions as its centerpiece. But as in 1919-1920, Antonov-Ovseenko also devoted considerable energy to the operations o f the Tam bov Cheka organization and its role in the counterinsur­ gency effort. Earlier assessments had highlighted the need to strengthen the provincial Cheka organization that had suffered considerably in the first months o f the re­ bellion, losing upwards o f 40 percent o f its staff in rebel attacks by the end o f 1920.60W hile the manpower shortage remained an issue in early 1921, the princi­ pal concern for Antonov-O vseenko and his associates on the Plenipotentiary Com m ission was the degree to which the Tambov Cheka had becom e infected with either fatalism or outright corruption. An initial inspection in late February 1921 revealed an organization in which “it was not at all rare to find incompetent and criminal elements. The situation called for a fundamental purge o f the Tam­ bov Cheka, and this is what was initiated and is still being pursued. M any arrests have already been made, for crimes such as counterrevolution, sabotage, contact with bandits, and all matter o f other crim inal infractions.”61 The purge o f the surviving Cheka m em bership occurred in February and early M arch, when M oscow assigned a young Chekist with extensive experience both in the rear­ guard and at the front lines o f the civil war, M ikhail Davidovich Antonov, to as­ sume control over the Tambov provincial Cheka organization.62This was possibly the first time Mikhail Davidovich regretted his decision, taken in the early months o f the civil war, to change his surname from the original (more clearly Jewish) “German” to “Antonov.”63 W hat could be termed the “ traditional” activities o f the Cheka intensified markedy. Reporting on rum ors overheard in markets and cafeterias was stepped up, and reports on possible opposition party activity also showed a demonstra­ ble rise. Surveillance was complemented by increased activity, particularly along the railways and w ithin the towns. In M arch and April there were regular roundups o f individuals living in the m ajor towns with known ties to opposi­ tion socialist parties, such as the PSR or the Mensheviks. Despite widespread ar­ rests, very little substantive political activity was uncovered.64 As the Cheka organization in Kozlov uezd reported following a similar roundup o f members o f the local “intelligentsia” : “their attitude in relation to politics is w holly internal­

Between Ambition and Necessity


ized— concerns about their stomachs are what possess them n o w ”65 Similarly, the Cheka in Tam bov becam e increasingly active within working-class circles, seeking to sabotage any plans for strikes that were taken to be indicative o f op­ position politics but were also principally dictated by fundamentally prosaic con­ cerns.66 The reinvigoration o f the Cheka in Tambov in March and April 1921 was not limited to the traditional duties o f suppressing independent political and oppo­ sitional activity. The Cheka was also to play a central role in the counterinsurgency. For the previous three months o f 1921, most intelligence gathering had been com ­ pleted by Red Arm y units, particularly the interrogation o f rebel prisoners and the debriefing o f Red A rm y servicemen w ho had been tem porarily taken captive. M any Partisan A rm y and STK materials had fallen into the hands o f the Red Arm y and the provincial government over the course o f the insurgency, but lit­ tle systematic effort had been made to develop either a composite picture o f the organization o f the insurgency or o f the depth o f the support enjoyed by the rebels. Addressing the first issue was a long-term project, involving the analysis o f all materials seized from the Partisan A rm y and STKs, as well as information gleaned from prisoners and civilians in the countryside. The second project was, for the counterinsurgency effort, far more pressing. The newly reorganized Cheka and Special Department, assisted by the arrival o f several agents brought in by Antonov-Ovseenko, began to com pile lists o f rebel villages and families with known connections to the rebels. Such lists would be compiled on the basis o f in­ formation contained in interrogation records, but the task was made m uch sim ­ pler because the Partisan Arm y and STKs maintained their own lists o f supporters in the villages as well as lists o f active rebel soldiers. In addition to these ready­ made intelligence materials, the Cheka also relied upon materials in the village and volost soviets, as well as those o f the short-lived Com m ittees o f the Poor, which contained records that identified kulak families among the local popula­ tion. All these sources inform ed the project o f drawing up lists o f known or sus­ pected rebel supporters.67 According to Antonov- Ovseenko’s report, the lists would be instrumental in the next phase o f the counterinsurgency effort. Separate lists would be com piled that distinguished between villages that actively joined the rebellion and those that were drawn in “ from w ithout” by units o f the Partisan Army. O ther lists would identify villages that were either actively or passively “pro-Soviet.” In ad­ dition to helping Red Arm y units chart and predict the movements o f rebel units from one “safe” village to the next, Antonov-Ovseenko also outlined how lists o f individual com m unity members “will assist us in the selection o f hostages from


Between Ambition and Necessity

each village, who will be shot on the occasion o f a repeated flare-up o f bandit ac­ tivity in that particular village.” Antonov-Ovseenko ordered that officials in sur­ viving local institutions and in the Cheka compile lists o f suspect inhabitants in the rural communities. This way, according to Antonov-Ovseenko, government forces can “check on the local inhabitants o f suspicious villages, determining who among those counted absent has a valid reason and who is likely to be partici­ pating in the rebellion, so that they can then take hostages from the families o f those likely to be bandits.”68

“ OCCUPATION” AND THE ARRIVAL OE TUKHACHEVSKII Such designs assumed an adequate amount o f local knowledge, which could only truly be gained by establishing a permanent foothold in the villages. Since the start o f the insurgency, however, this was precisely what had been lost to the gov­ ernment. The dismantling o f the network o f rural soviets by the rebels had oc­ curred fairly rapidly in the final months o f 1920, and efforts to reestablish these institutions had frequently been short-lived, providing only easy targets for rebel units that dominated particular localities. A t the beginning o f April, for instance, Tambov uezd had only twenty-two o f its fifty-six volost soviets up and running, and all but two had been forced to abandon operations at one time or other over the previous seven months.69 Com m unist Party members with experience work­ ing in the countryside were hesitant to take new assignments in revived village or volost soviets if the Red A rm y was unable to provide adequate security.70 The same problem affected the revolutionary committees, extraordinary institutions installed by the m ilitary in front-line zones and areas o f instability that were in­ tended to function in lieu o f civilian soviets.71 The political wing o f the Red Arm y began installing revolutionary committees (or revkoms) in Tambov in late Feb­ ruary 1921, but because they could sustain an adequate troop presence only in certain regional centers, the revkoms only extended to what was called the “re­ gional” level.72 Attempts to extend the network to the volosts and villages o f the territory o f the insurgency were unsuccessful, and Com m unist Party members in the m ain towns o f the province were far from enthusiastic at the prospect o f re­ ceiving such an assignment without adequate guarantees for their safety.73 The shortage o f m ilitary forces in the area that could provide a stable source o f security was affecting nearly all government initiatives to earn the trust o f the rural population. The two-week amnesty that had been announced on 20 March

Between Ambition and Necessity


was generally considered to be a failure, despite the fact that over 3,000 men sur­ rendered during its course.74 W ith only a handful o f m en surrendering with weapons in order to accept the full amnesty offered by the Plenipotentiary C o m ­ mission, provincial officials were forced to accept that the amnesty had done lit­ tle to weaken the insurgency. According to an assessment offered by the Tambov Cheka, rebel soldiers were confronted with strong propaganda messages to limit the impact o f the amnesty, ranging from efforts to suppress inform ation about the offer (such as taking down announcements detailing its provisions), deliber­ ate m isinform ation (such as warnings that the Cheka planned not to honor the amnesty), and provisional acceptance o f the soldier’s desire to take up the offer (for example, permitting rebels to accept amnesty but without surrendering their weapons).75 M ost who took up the amnesty were not directly connected with the rebellion but were classified as deserters and had managed to avoid involvement in the conflict on either side.76 For those who served in the Partisan Arm y in the heart o f the insurgency, amnesty offered few real assurances if they had to sur­ render in defiance o f the rebel leaders and if postamnesty freedom in one’s na­ tive village meant extreme vulnerability to rebel reprisals.77 The plans to draft lists o f villagers that could be used by m ilitary and Cheka forces to separate the “bandit” from the “nonbandit” families were similarly lim ­ ited by the government’s inability to provide a stable presence and security for vil­ lage communities. There were some encouraging signs o f a will to cooperate with government agents in this regard, but these were found on the periphery o f the conflict zone and thus were not a sound basis for generalization by members o f the Plenipotentiary Com m ission.78 The shortage o f armed forces affected nearly every aspect o f the work initiated by Antonov-Ovseenko and his Plenipotentiary Com mission as part o f the occupation system. By m id-April, Antonov-Ovseenko was compelled to lament the situation in terms that echoed the outrage voiced by provincial and local officials in late 1920 when they confronted their own “power­ lessness” to affect a positive change in the strategic situation: “All our work among the peasantry has been ruined— the bandit elements have returned and have begun to punish the members o f the peasantry loyal to us. The peasants, who had begun to come over to our side, are being bled on account o f our own weak­ ness, for when our forces depart, the bandits once m ore find themselves masters o f the situation in a particular region.”79 Antonov-Ovseenko requested that M oscow make a major com m itm ent to re­ solving the situation in Tambov by assigning seasoned Red Arm y troops in large formations, rather than transferring the odd battalion o f irregulars to raise troop


Between Ambition and Necessity

totals to what appeared to be an overwhelming number. Antonov-Ovseenko asked for no fewer than two divisions o f three brigades each, including armored or m o­ torized units. This was nearly double the request he had sent to M oscow only a few days before via the provincial party chairman, VasiTev.80 He also made sev­ eral recommendations that would guarantee that M oscow maintained a close in­ terest in the rapid “liquidation” o f the rebellion in Tambov. This surprisingly included making the Red Arm y com mand in Tambov directly subordinate to Red Arm y Supreme Headquarters in Moscow and not to the Southern Regional Head­ quarters in Orel, w hich had previously been assured for Com m ander Pavlov when he arrived in January 1921.81 Four months on, and the same requests and recommendations were being made to effect a transformation o f the counterin­ surgency effort, and the same themes were being repeated by senior officials sta­ tioned in Tambov. “Occupation is the prerequisite condition for all o f our work,” Antonov-Ovseenko wrote in April, confirm ing that, after several months, “occu­ pation” remained aspirational rather than operational.82 Antonov-Ovseenko, having recovered from illness in the final week o f April, traveled to Moscow to report directly to VTsIK’s Antibanditry Commission on the situation in Tambov and to recommend a significant intensification o f the coun­ terinsurgency operation. His recommendations were hardly novel, but AntonovO vseenko returned to Tam bov with new confidence that M oscow was finally focused on resolving the situation in the province.83 In response to AntonovOvseenko’s report before the Antibanditry Commission, E. M. Sklianskii (a mem ­ ber o f the commission and o f the Revolutionary M ilitary Council) wrote a brief memo to Lenin: “ I would think it beneficial to send Tukhachevskii to suppress the rebellion in Tambov. Things there have not im proved in recent times, and in some areas the situation has even grown worse. If we were to make such a decision, there w ill be a considerable political effect. Especially abroad. Your opinion on this?” Lenin agreed to Sklianskii’s proposal, adding: “ Take this to M olotov for a decision tom orrow at the Politburo m eeting. I propose we ap­ point [Tukhachevskii] w ithout any publicity in the Center [Moscow], without




notices in the press.” 84 M ikhail Nikolaevich Tukhachevskii had joined the Red Arm y in 1918 after es­ caping from a P O W camp in Germ any following the conclusion o f the BrestLitovsk Treaty. He had been a lieutenant in the tsarist arm y but was alm ost immediately awarded the rank o f general in the Red Army, which had been so desperately short o f experienced commanders from the time o f its foundation. He had been an arm y group com mander on the eastern front o f the civil war, then

Between Ambition and Necessity


became overall com mander o f the Caucasian front in early 1920, followed by a similar tenure as commander o f the western front during the invasion o f Poland in the sum m er o f 1920. He was the m ost celebrated o f the Red A rm y’s com ­ manders and the most recognizable and respected such figure on the international stage. Lenin’s wariness o f attracting attention to the appointment o f Tukhachevskii was possibly more informed by the general’s most recent assignment as the organ­ izer o f the suppression o f the Kronstadt mutiny near Petrograd. Nearly all persons living in Moscow and Petrograd were aware o f the uprising in Tambov and the pro­ tracted conflict between the rebels and the provincial government. But the seri­ ousness o f the insurgency and the escalating commitment o f the Red Arm y and Soviet state to suppressing it remained the subject o f rumors rather than com m u­ nicated through the press organs o f the party and government. A n official an­ nouncement o f the appointment o f Tukhachevskii— the general who oversaw the bloody suppression o f Kronstadt— would have raised both popular anxieties about the seriousness o f the insurgency in Tambov and the prospect o f yet another bru­ tal “liquidation” o f popular resistance in the manner o f Kronstadt. In addition, the seriousness o f internal disorder in the Soviet Republic would have been signaled to international governments by the appointment o f the celebrated general. Tukhachevskii’s appointment, however, was a clear indication that M oscow had accepted Antonov-Ovseenko’s recommendations, something further indi­ cated by the decisions made at the Politburo m eeting on 28 April that approved the appointm ent.85 The Politburo gave Tukhachevskii full authority over m ili­ tary operations in Tambov, m aking him answerable only to Red A rm y Supreme Headquarters. Tukhachevskii was given a one-m onth deadline for the complete “liquidation” o f the rebellion. O n the day o f the Politburo meeting, the Plenipo­ tentiary Com m ission met in Tambov to discuss in detail the measures approved b y the Politburo and by the special Antibanditry Com m ission in Moscow. W ith the understanding that the internal situation was on the whole improving for the Soviet state, with the singular exception o f the conflict in Tambov, officials initi­ ated a wide range o f measures in addition to appointing General Tukhachevskii.86 Most important, two infantry brigades were to be assigned to reinforce the Tam­ bov sector, along with the cavalry brigade led by General Grigorii Ivanovich Kotovskii, a force with extensive experience fighting under similar conditions in Ukraine.87 These mobile forces were to be complemented by a strengthened con­ tingent o f armored and motorized units and aided by intensified aerial reconnais­ sance. Perhaps most important for the realization o f state objectives in Tambov, the Revolutionary M ilitary Council and Red Arm y Supreme Headquarters were


Between Ambition and Necessity

instructed to transfer senior com m and staff and reliable officers to the region, with the hope o f adding structure and responsiveness to the chain o f com mand in a conflict zone plagued by poor com munications and coordination between military units and commanders. As for the m ilitary units themselves, nearly 1,000 political workers tied to the Red A rm y were designated for assignment to Tam­ bov to maintain discipline among the troops engaged in the counterinsurgency operation and generally to ensure a suitable “political consciousness” am ong them .88 Tukhachevskii brought not only the full backing o f the RVSR and the Polit­ buro. He brought with him an uncom m on energy and com m itm ent to effective organization, qualities that had been lacking in the recent efforts to deal with the insurgency in Tambov. Although Antonov-Ovseenko had been sent to Tambov in February to take control o f a worsening situation, he was not only hampered by illness, but also m uch more focused (despite his m ilitary background) on issues o f civil administration and government than strictly military matters. His efforts had been m ainly in trying to set the political side o f the counterinsurgency cam ­ paign on an effective footing and to revive the functions o f state administration in the province. W hen Tukhachevskii arrived on 6 M ay 1921, he was installed as a m ember o f the Plenipotentiary Com m ission with particular focus on the m il­ itary suppression o f the insurgency. He was made overall com m ander o f the “Tam bov A rm y” (a change o f designation that corresponded to the expanded powers o f the new com m ander) and given direct control over the m ilitary conduct o f the counterinsurgency effort. Whereas in the previous m onths in­ term ediary officials (such as Red A rm y com m and in Orel) and independent bu­ reaucracies (VChK and N K V D ) had represented com plicating and crosscutting lines o f communication and decision making, Tukhachevskii was now the sole in­ termediary with M oscow on matters pertaining to the conflict in Tambov, con­ trolling all armed forces deployed in the region. Tukhachevskii established his base outside the city o f Tambov at the fortified settlement thirteen kilometers to the south where the strategically important gun­ powder works were located.89Taking a week to familiarize himself with the situa­ tion, he took the concept o f occupation and, with the knowledge that significant reinforcements were on their way to Tambov, gave the idea shape with an instruc­ tion to all military and political officials in the province issued on 12 May. Identi­ fying the rebellion as an “epidemic” that infected the villages o f the province, he insisted with his opening words that what was required was not some sort o f long, drawn-out program o f treatment for the people o f the villages in Tambov, but rather a shock campaign, “or even a war,” to annihilate the disease: “Operations

Between Ambition and Necessity


against the bandits should be unfailingly methodical, because banditry will come to an end only when it is m orally defeated, when the very character o f the sup­ pression is one o f consistency and brutal persistence. Simply undertaking a small war against groups o f bandits will never succeed in uprooting banditry and, as ex­ perience demonstrates, it only manages to fuel the criminal and partisan flames.”90 Tukhachevskiis description o f the occupation strategy comprised two essen­ tial strands. The first was the tireless pursuit o f the active rebel formations. This was to be undertaken b y m obile forces that would enjoy independence o f m a­ neuver across the designated borders o f individual m ilitary sectors, which had themselves been extended across provincial borders into parts o f Penza and Sara­ tov follow ing Tukhachevskii’s appointm ent.91 W ith an emphasis on constant scouting, the objective o f m obile forces should be to attack rebel groups as soon as they appeared, and those attacks should be maintained until the rebels were de­ stroyed— “Pursuit should not cease until the band is completely extinguished... . In a word, that [Red Army] unit should attach itself like a leech to its band and should not allow it sleep, rest, or the opportunity to com pose itself.” In Tukhachevskiis later writings on the subject, he explained that this constituted a critical break with the past strategy o f the m ilitary commanders in Tambov. No longer was the objective o f the Red Arm y in the province to maneuver troops to encircle the rebel forces. This strategy was excessively static (owing, in part, to the predominance o f infantry troops at the time) and allowed the rebels to make the m ost o f their superior m obility in order to escape.92 The second aspect o f Tukhachevskii’s plan was the establishment o f a con­ stant presence in the villages previously dominated by the rebellion. This was to cut o ff the rebellion from its mainsprings and to force the active rebels out into the open and away from their most im portant sources o f supply and support.93 It was also to provide an opportunity for m ilitary forces to oversee the establish­ ment o f government institutions once more in those villages and volosts in the area o f the conflict. “ Liberation” was not to be extended to a given village unless sufficient forces were available to “occupy” it effectively. O n the whole, Tukhachevskiis plan was very much what local commanders and government officials had themselves wanted to do m any weeks before the general arrived in Tambov. But with Tukhachevskiis arrival, these designs all ap­ peared to be feasible because o f the prom ise o f new and better arm ed forces. M any o f his recommendations were predicated on this knowledge, even if they appeared to be inform ed by the mistakes o f the previous months. “ Occupying forces in the m ilitary sectors must never, under any circumstances, take the de­ cision to break up into small units,” Tukhachevskii wrote, but government forces


Between Ambition and Necessity

had previously been unable to realize this luxury, as they were stretched so thinly across the territory o f the conflict. He continued: “ Every individual unit within a m ilitary sector should be capable o f carrying out autonom ous actions against any given gang o f bandits; therefore, the known size o f the bandit gangs in a given occupied sector will determine the size o f the individual government units lo­ cated there.”94 W hile these direct actions against rebel forces were the first measures to be described by Tukhachevskii, the guiding concerns o f the occupation system were to recover a safe environment in the villages, an environment in which adminis­ trative institutions could be reestablished. Tukhachevskii noted that available arm y units would also have to provide guard detachments in any village in which they settled during the course o f operations. But the real source o f security would have to be the militia, com posed o f nonlocal individuals and Com m unist Party members, which would be a permanent armed security detachment in any village where the state sought to establish a revolutionary committee. Reassuring the local population was to be critical to the stability o f the counterinsurgency effort, and this, according to Tukhachevskii, was to be achieved principally by a dem on­ stration o f the firmness o f Soviet power. M ilitary occupation, in Tukhachevskiis plan, was to enable the pacification o f the civilian population and to allow for the restoration o f civilian administration, a process he called “sovietization.”95 The first significant measure taken by the Plenipotentiary Com m ission fol­ lowing Tukhachevskiis arrival was meant to signal precisely this type o f resolve to the rural population as a whole. “Order no. 130,” issued on 12 M ay 1921, was de­ signed to project a image o f force and resolve to the rural population and to sig­ nal to the rebels that a turning point had been reached: “ The W orkers’ and Peasants’ government has decided to eradicate the banditry problem in Tambov Province in short order, taking the m ost decisive measures to achieve this result.” The Plenipotentiary Com m ission then listed eight orders and ultimatums:

1. A ll m ilitary forces in Tam bov Province w ill be joined by reinforcements and are to take the m ost decisive and rapid actions to destroy the bandit gangs. 2. A ll peasants w ho have joined bands are to surrender w ith out delay to Soviet authorities, giving up their w eapons and turning in their leaders so that they can be handed over to the courts o f the m ilitary revolutionary tribunal. Voluntary sur­ renders w ill not be threatened w ith the death penalty. 3. Families o f bandits that fail to surrender are to be arrested, w ith all their prop­ erty confiscated and redistributed am ong peasants that truly support Soviet power. 4. Arrested families are to be resettled to distant territories o f the Soviet Re­ public if their fam ily m em ber does not give him self up.

Between Ambition and Necessity


5. Bandits that do n ot surrender are to be considered outside the protections o f the law. 6. Innocent peasants m ust not perm it the m obilization and form ation o f bands in their ow n villages and must inform Red A rm y forces o f all bandit activity. 7. A ll Red A rm y units w ithout exception must give the peasants hill support and provide full protection for them against bandit raids. 8. T he present order is the final w arning in advance o f decisive and severe o p ­ erations, and it w ill be carried out harshly and methodically.96

Tukhachevskii explained in his adjoining instruction to Soviet forces and gov­ ernment officials that these threats had to be carried out with exceptional sever­ ity, for the intention was to drive a significant wedge between the civilian population and the active rebels. “ [Banditry] is both ruinous and wearying for the peasantry,” he wrote, and he believed that genuine efforts to bring stability to the villages could not but create allies for the Soviet governm ent am ong the rural population.97 Punishing rebel families would drive that wedge further. Thus, con­ fiscated property would be redistributed am ong members o f the same com m u­ nity, and arrested families would be removed from the villages, threatened with









Redistribution would immediately give other com m unity members a material interest in the identification o f rebel supporters and thus would stamp other com ­ m unity members as supporters o f the regime.99 W hile Tukhachevskii’s designs m ay not have been entirely original and may have relied upon the arrival o f armed reinforcements that had been denied pre­ vious commanders in the province, he did succeed in com m unicating and in­ stilling precisely the need for decisive measures that had inspired authorities in M oscow to assign him to Tam bov in the first place. Order no. 130 and the ac­ com panying instructions truly signaled a break with past experience and con­ duct for officials in the province, for it took the systematic struggle with the rebellion to the villages themselves rather than remaining focused on the rebel armies.100Knowing that the rebels were severely weakened by recent defeats (es­ pecially as a result o f the failed attack on Kirsanov), and knowing that the farm ­ ing com m unities had grown increasingly im patient and antagonized b y a continuation o f the conflict far into the agricultural season, the Plenipotentiary Commission and the Red Arm y began to make the transition to a concerted cam ­ paign o f pacification, w ith all the enticements and punishments that this en­ tailed.101


Between Ambition and Necessity

DEMOBILIZATION AND OCCUPATION New units began to arrive in Tambov even before Tukhachevskii’s own arrival in the province. O n 3 May, the cavalry brigade under General Kotovskii reached its assignment in the Fifth Military Sector, in Morshansk uezd, consisting o f just over 1,300 m en.102 During the first two weeks in May, some 15,000 Red Arm y officer cadets would assemble in Tambov from all over Russia and Ukraine, reinforcing existing cavalry, artillery, and infantry groups as well as form ing their own units that would play a significant role in the First M ilitary Sector that encompassed all o f Kirsanov uezd.103 If the arrival o f three full battalions, two infantry and one cavalry, in addition to other armored and motorized units, allowed Tukhachevskii to believe that the one-m onth deadline handed down by the Politburo could be achieved, other factors that had previously com plicated the efforts o f com ­ manders in Tambov would similarly be resolved after his arrival in the province.104 The realization o f the occupation scheme still rested upon the state’s ability to es­ tablish a permanent administrative presence in the villages. Troops could occupy m ajor villages and establish modest garrisons capable o f defending these locali­ ties, but a motivated contingent o f civilian administrators w ould be required to staff the revolutionary committees that were to act in the capacity o f local gov­ ernment until the election o f new village soviets. The strongest source o f sup­ port that the governm ent was able to tap for the restoration o f civilian administration and self-defense came with the dem obilization o f the multimillion-strong Red A rm y in the spring o f 1921. The issue o f demobilization was o f particular importance, for the release o f soldiers from active duty could be as influential in the effort to pacify the coun­ tryside as it had been in inflaming the situation during an earlier round o f de­ mobilization begun in January 1921.105 Then, abruptly demobilized older soldiers had been released into a rural environment dominated by the insurgency and its burgeoning organization and confidence. It was at a time when the provincial governm ent had all but abandoned southern Tam bov Province to the rebels. M any o f the estimated 4,000 soldiers native to Tam bov who were demobilized from local garrisons and from other locations in January 1921 were quickly inte­ grated into the ranks o f the Partisan Army, either voluntarily or through com ­ pulsion. Since that experience, government and m ilitary officials had been intent on preparing the dem obilization process in such a way as to minim ize the possi­ bility o f former soldiers falling into the Partisan A rm y’s ranks. Soldiers were to go through a filtering process to assess their political reliabil­ ity and whether or not they were likely to join the rebels. In the wake o f the land­

Between Ambition and Necessity


m ark decision o f the Tenth Party Congress in March to introduce the tax in kind and liberalize free trade, Red Arm y political workers believed they had new am ­ m unition with which to appeal to soldiers scheduled for demobilization and to arm them as they returned to their native villages. Instruction in the new policies o f the Soviet government and the long-term benefits to the peasantry became an integral part o f the demobilization process as conceived by provincial officials in April and M ay 1921, and soldiers were given explanatory materials to take home to help them spread the w ord.106 The extra precautions and care taken in the groom ing o f soldiers scheduled for dem obilization indicated that the govern­ ment recognized their potential influence on the political situation in the coun­ tryside.107 The main failing o f the previous round o f demobilizations in early 1921 was not that soldiers were unprepared upon their release. It was in large part that they had no protection or institutional ties once they arrived in their hom e districts. To correct this error, demobilizing soldiers after April 1921 entailed a type o f reen­ listment, as soldiers were encouraged to serve in the fledgling network o f revo­ lutionary committees being promoted within the territory o f the insurgency. The first choice for service in these committees remained members o f the C om m u­ nist Party with experience in administrative affairs, but the experience o f work in the soviets and Com m unist Party cells over the previous two years, and especially during the first months o f the insurgency in late 1920, had left many Com m unist Party members in Tambov disillusioned and unwilling to return to w ork in the rural milieu. Party membership had declined drastically since mid-1920, and while there were still Com m unist Party members based in Tambov who were willing to w ork in the revkoms and other rural institutions— as m uch out o f desperation, often, as o f com mitm ent— there were nevertheless serious shortfalls to be made up if the system o f local governm ent was to be restored.108 The A ntibanditry Com m ission recognized this, and it ordered the transfer o f 300 party members to Tam bov to assist in the counterinsurgency operation. Demobilized soldiers, however, represented a m ore stable and long-term option. Lists were prepared as soldiers were processed for dem obilization o f m en native to the villages o f Tambov Province who were considered suitable for service in the revkoms. O n the lists were those who responded positively to the overtures o f the political in ­ structors or who expressed a strong antipathy for the rebels in Tam bov and in other parts o f the Soviet countryside. The impact o f demobilization, however, was not immediate. W hile captured and surrendered Partisan A rm y soldiers revealed that dem obilization in the Red Arm y had made an impact on the morale o f the rebels, its contribution to the oc-


Between Ambition and Necessity

Demobilization Activity in Tambov Province, 24 December 1920-1 June 1921 Uezd

Released from Local Garrisons

Demobilized Soldiers Returning to Uezd

Total Registered at Railway Stations Trains

Demobilized Soldiers





2 6 ,3 8 7





6 6 ,8 0 7


4 ,0 3 0



2 8 ,0 9 4



3 3 ,456














2,6 2 4







2 3 ,630




















Temnikov Sosnovka/Elat’ma Note: n.d. = no data

Source: TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 1043,1.24.

cupation and to Tukhachevskii’s counterinsurgency campaign was minim al in the first m onth.109The demobilization process truly began only in May, when the Plenipotentiary Commission and provincial government received assistance from Moscow in the form o f more experienced political workers to prepare the ground and manage the undertaking. In addition, the organization o f local revolution­ ary committees only began in earnest in the same m onth, as the m ilitary forces exercised considerable pressure on the larger remaining groups o f rebel forces in the territory. Coordinating the w ork o f the arm y with that o f the Com m unist Party and provincial adm inistration to facilitate the establishment o f revolu­ tionary committees in the individual military sectors were the sector political com ­ missions (uchastkovye politicheskie komissii, or upolitkomy). Appointed by the Plenipotentiary Com mission and intended to serve as the local em bodim ent o f this institution, each political commission typically consisted o f senior political and military officials who enjoyed the confidence o f Tukhachevskii and AntonovOvseenko. Their purpose, according to the instruction issued on 15 May, was to oversee the reestablishment o f state administration in the individual sectors, a

Between Ambition and Necessity


task that began with the execution o f punitive orders such as no. 130 and ended with the installation o f revolutionary committees and soviets in the villages and volosts.110 The execution o f Order no. 130 proved to be the most pressing and challeng­ ing task for the newly formed political commissions. In May, however, a number o f changes, both in the m ilitary forces deployed in the province and in state and party personnel, complicated the effective implementation o f the order. For in­ stance, in the Second M ilitary Sector that encompassed Tambov uezd, one o f the first major targets selected by the political commission led by the uezd C om m u­ nist Party chief, la. L. Smolenskii, was the village o f Pichaevo. The village had long been considered a rebel stronghold, where Red Arm y detachments had been attacked and disarmed on more than one occasion during the winter o f 1920-1921, and where local Com munist Party and soviet workers had been killed. Entering the village on 20 May, representatives o f the sector political com m ission took hostages from am ong those identified on their lists o f rebel families, held a gen­ eral meeting o f com m unity members at which the terms o f the order were read out, and the assembled villagers were required to agree on a resolution con­ demning the rebels and recognizing the authority o f the Plenipotentiary C o m ­ mission and Soviet armed forces.111 That same night, however, locals attacked and killed four persons identified as "sympathizers o f Soviet power,” prom pting the sector political commission to re­ quest permission from the Plenipotentiary Com m ission for a second entry into Pichaevo to take further hostages and oversee the confiscation o f more property from those on the list o f prorebel families.112 This request brought a critical reply from Antonov-Ovseenko in Tambov, who warned against any more sudden puni­ tive operations w ithout adequate preparation for security in the village after the departure o f the political commission’s representatives. "Never leave our sym­ pathizers defenseless,” said Antonov-O vseenko to the com m ission chairm an, Smolenskii. He insisted that better coordination was needed with m ilitary offi­ cials, for such an operation could not succeed without the m ilitary being able to devote a garrison force to protect villagers in Pichaevo. In reply to this criticism, however, Smolenskii found it difficult to look beyond the fact that Pichaevo was a "bandit” village and that they had a list o f villagers associated with the insur­ gency that numbered over 100 names, among them three known rebel leaders. “At the same time,” Smolenskii told Antonov-Ovseenko in their telephone exchange, "they killed eleven Com m unists there in addition to the volost party chairman, and it is a fact that they have now, in reply to our taking hostages and ordering the confiscations o f property, spilled blood once again.” It was difficult for local


Between Ambition and Necessity

officials to resist the urge for vengeance, but Antonov-Ovseenko in this case em ­ phasized the need for a dispassionate com m itm ent to the strategy set out by Tukhachevskii. “ If there are no forces available to commit for an adequate amount o f time,” he wrote, “then it is better to simply wait until such forces are available.” 113 In the weeks following the issue o f Order no. 130, the assembly o f troops to serve in the garrisons at the heart o f the occupation scheme, as well as the or­ ganizations o f the m ilitia that would provide long-term security in the villages, was only just beginning. Every m ilitary sector had begun operations associated with Order no. 130, but few reported anything m ore than sporadic success. By the end o f the month, in the First M ilitary Sector (Kirsanov) only seventeen volost revolutionary committees had been established, and the number o f rebels who had surrendered in connection with the execution o f Order no. 130 had been dis­ appointingly small. The main cause for the slow progress was, predictably, the shortage o f military units to provide security.114 But there were other difficulties. In the Second M ilitary Sector, operations relating to the same order had been complicated by the refusal o f individuals to reveal their true surnames, thus m ak­ ing a match according to the com piled lists a matter o f speculation and reliance upon third-party information. The same phenomenon was reported in other sec­ tors, as was the fact that households were hiding their belongings with neighbors or with friends in other villages or towns, so as to minim ize the impact o f threat­ ened confiscation.115 Added to these concerns was the report that the STK had is­ sued its own order in reply to the recent punitive approach o f the Plenipotentiary Com mission, threatening a campaign o f terror against the families o f C om m u­ nist Party members, thus bringing the war to the so-called innocents, just as the Soviet government had done with its Order no. 130. Notably addressing its local STK committees as “revolutionary committees,” at a time when the Soviet gov­ ernment was seeking to organize its own such revkoms, the Tambov provincial STK threatened reprisals against the families o f Com munist Party members in re­ sponse to every instance o f punitive measures being taken against families o f rebel soldiers and “party workers,” that is, members o f the PSR.116 The news on the progress with Order no. 130 was not all disappointing; in the Fourth M ilitary Sector (Kozlov and Lipetsk uezds), the attitude was upbeat, with up to 1,700 persons arrested, o f whom 540 were taken as hostages. There had been fewer problems here in deploying available soldiers and Com m unist Party m em ­ bers to the occupied volosts to establish revkoms and a garrison presence, but then only eleven volosts had been targeted for occupation in the entire sector, all o f them in Kozlov uezd territory.117 For the other sectors, principally those that included the traditional “nests” o f the rebel movement, the tactics would have to

Between Ambition and Necessity


be altered, just as m ore troops would need to be brought in.

BREAKING THE PARTISAN ARMY, MAY-JONE1921 The new units introduced to the province to serve as pursuit forces had taken some two weeks to assemble and acclimatize before full-scale operations could begin, and this period constituted a brief breathing spell for the beleaguered forces o f the Partisan Army. O n the whole, clashes in M ay were relatively few. O ne incident on n M ay involving D m itrienkos cavalry brigade and one o f the units o f the Second Cheka Regiment produced the claim that “the core o f Antonov s band is defeated and they have fled with the bulk o f their forces to the north__ Prisoners and deserters inform us that A ntonov is planning to take his arm y across the railway in the region o f Platonovka-Lom ovis [the Kirsanov-Tambov railway] and cross over to the northern part o f the province.” 118 It is unclear if this report does, in fact, describe an engagement with the “ main force” under Antonov, but the belief that the rebels had been thrown into flight to the safety o f the north was misplaced. By the end o f the m onth, both rebel armies— the First Partisan A rm y under Boguslavskii and the Second Partisan A rm y under Antonov— were still settled in the region where Kirsanov, Borisoglesk, and Tambov uezds m eet.119 There are even indications that the Partisan Arm y and its leaders were far from exhibiting the desperation that som e Red A rm y reports attribute to them. A young woman identified only by the surname Garshineva testified that she was stopped on the road to the village o f Pushino by a group o f rebel sentries. She and her sister were told that “martial law” had been declared in the region, and they were “arrested” and taken to rebel headquarters. Her account o f what she saw was far from what one m ight expect o f rural rebels under severe pressure from government forces:

W hen we arrived in the headquarters, I did not have m uch tim e to inspect the surroundings, as one o f the rebel com m anders w ith his bodyguard approached us and took us over to a m an they said was their leader, A ntonov. A nton ov made a good im pression on me, and I let him hold m y hand. Then, while I was still there, they called in the barber, and A nton ov suddenly declared: “ Better have a shave, so that the ladies w ill love me!” W hen he finished w ith his groom ing [svoi tualet ], he sat dow n next to m e and we began speaking, b ut after a while I gave him m y hand and explained that he m ust be tired and in need o f rest, and I asked him to allow


Between Ambition and Necessity

m e to leave. He answered by saying that it was not a problem— we are typical people and not brutes, he said— and he allowed m e to go hom e. W hen I got m yself ready to depart, he spoke to m e again, inviting m e to a party they were having that very night. I thanked him for the invitation and left. I got hom e at around m idnight, but even so, I decided that I w ould go to the party. W hen I arrived back at the house [where the rebels were], they allowed m e in and A nton ov and I danced m any times around the room , but after a while I stopped and told him that I was not able to dance any longer, as it was too hot and sweaty for m y liking, and so w e stopped and A n ton ov then asked m e if I w ould like to go for a w alk instead. I agreed, and we went w alking for nearly an hour and a h alf before he stopped and said that he had to leave and have his dinner. I grabbed hold o f him and asked him n ot to go, but he insisted that he could not stay w ith me, after w hich I finally left once m ore for hom e and never saw him again.120

Besides being yet another testament to the apparent charms o f the Partisan A rm y leader, Garshinevas description is also one o f a rebel headquarters that contin­ ued to m aintain a sense o f security at its base in southwestern Kirsanov uezd. This remained rebel territory, where rebel guards patrolled the streets enforcing their own “martial law” and where partisan leaders continued to dance to their own music. By the end o f May, however, this breathing spell would come to an abrupt halt. Knowing that the rebels forces were concentrated in a limited area, and leaving to one side the lesser rebel force under Boguslavskii, the new m ilitary leadership in the province planned an orchestrated attack on the Second Partisan Arm y that would force Antonov out o f the base territory where he enjoyed such security and possibly push him out o f Tam bov Province into areas where he could no longer rely upon the familiarity and support o f the local population. The object o f their plan was not to carry out an overwhelming assault on the Second Parti­ san Army, but rather to spur it into a flight that would eventually wear it down and finally defeat it. W hile the Red A rm y was aware o f the rebels’ superior m o­ bility, their intelligence assured them that Antonov could truly rely on the effec­ tiveness o f only two o f the remaining Partisan A rm y regiments currently under his com mand— the Fourth and the “Special.” These accounted for what was be­ lieved to be only one-third o f the 3,000 men under arms in the Rzhaksa region. W hat is more, the rebels were low on ammunition, it was believed, and only some 40 percent rode with saddles or cushions.121 A prolonged and intense pursuit would wear down the rebel horsemen, both m entally and physically. Positioning three cavalry groups to the north, northeast, and northwest o f

Between Ambition and Necessity


Rzhaksa, the Red Arm y in Tambov sought to cut offlines o f escape for A ntonov that would draw him deeper into Kirsanov uezd and in the direction o f Morshansk and Kozlov uezds.122 As expected, upon learning o f the advance o f Red Arm y troops, Antonov’s men hastily set o ff due north, but after realizing that they were m oving directly toward Kotovskii’s brigade, the rebels turned sharply in the d i­ rection o f the Kirsanov-Saratov border. Their progress was too swift to allow the Fourteenth brigade to cut them off, but the Fourteenth did m ove eastward in order to take up a position along the border to prevent a possible return into Tambov along the same route Antonov had taken. Red Arm y and other govern­ ment troops in Saratov were then ordered to move toward the rebels’ positions near the Khoper River. The intention was evidently to force the rebels northward, as troops in Penza were sim ilarly instructed to take up positions along their border with Saratov, to cut the rebels o ff should they advance that far north. Kotovskii’s men were m oved to a similar position, as was Dmitrienko’s cavalry brigade. The speed o f the rebel horsemen, however, meant that the Red Arm y cavalry was slow in m oving into position. Able to change horses two or three times daily, the rebels had a distinct advantage in such chases. One o f the partic­ ipants in this operation, Ivan Trutko, wrote later that Antonov’s arm y could cover between 120 and 150 versts per day— a speed o f m ovem ent “unprecedented in history,” he wrote.123 The clear alternative for the Red Arm y was the use o f motorized units to m ain­ tain the pressure on the rebel horsemen. These had recently been organized by commanders Fed’ko and Uborevich. The form er’s m otorized unit consisted o f seven vehicles, six heavy trucks, and one smaller car, all outfitted with machine guns.124 It was the first to engage the Partisan Arm y in Saratov, which was the first tim e the rebels had been confronted by such m otorized units. The initial en­ counter occurred in the village o f Dve Sestritsy, where the Second Partisan Arm y — still nearly 3,000 strong— had paused following two days o f travel into Saratov territory. O n 31 May, the seven vehicles o f Fed’ko’s unit converged on the village. Taken by surprise and believing themselves to be surrounded, the rebels were thrown into a panic, with many taking cover in the houses and huts o f the small village, while the bulk o f the group managed to escape to a nearby woods. Few ca­ sualties were reported, and this first confrontation between the rebel horsemen and the government’s armored vehicles was written o ff by Red A rm y com m and­ ers as a missed opportunity. Limited by the lack o f cavalry support, the m otor­ ized unit under Fed’ko opted to take up the chase o f the larger group o f rebel cavalry, which quickly left the woods after regrouping and headed for the village


Between Ambition and Necessity

o f Elan’, only twenty-five versts south o f Serdobsk.125 O n the following day, Fed’ko, with the support o f both Kotovskii and Kovalev’s cavalry brigades, initiated an attack on Elan’. Some 3,000 followers o f A ntonov had occupied the small village during the night, and they remained there in the m orning as the Red A rm y planned its assault. At noon on 1 June, three o f the heavy vehicles were sent into the center o f the village, while the remaining four took up positions on the periphery. Again, the appearance o f the trucks with their m ounted machine guns prom pted a scramble among the rebel soldiers, but this time around they provided sterner resistance as they fired their rifles at the vehi­ cles from inside the houses o f Elan’. This resistance, however, did not last once the cavalry o f Kovalev’s brigade entered the village. The appearance o f Red Arm y troops in greater numbers inspired the rebels to take flight once more, managing to regroup again in a nearby woods before continuing their progress northward closer to Serdobsk.126 By 2 June, the men still with Antonov were able to rest in a forest just to the east o f Serdobsk, while the Red Arm y m otorized forces were concentrated to the north o f the same town, in the village o f Baltinka. In m oving further east during the day, Antonov ordered his m en to destroy all bridges passed to slow the pur­ suit o f the m otorized units. However, Fed’ko’s vehicles were further north, fol­ low ing a parallel route in the hope o f getting ahead o f Antonov and attacking from the east. The cavalrymen under Kotovskii continued to pursue Antonov as well, following in the tracks o f the rebel force. Both units eventually encountered the rebels once again on the evening o f 2 June in the village o f Bakury, on the banks o f the river Serdoba. The appearance o f the Red A rm y’s trucks and the firing o f the cavalry brigade’s artillery once again surprised the rebels, who had stopped to rest in Bakury in part because o f the sympathy they met from among the local population. Their flight from the village was even m ore hasty and chaotic than in previous encounters, evidenced by the significant am ount o f m u­ nitions and other supplies left behind as the rebels sought to cross over to the other side o f the Serdoba to make their escape. They abandoned some nine m a­ chine guns with stockpiles o f amm unition and over 300 horses. More important, scores o f rebel soldiers were left for dead.127 The surviving rebels continued on course up the Serdoba River as it followed an easterly path, eventually bending northward. The Red A rm y forces, however, did not continue their chase. It was widely accepted that Antonov, after suffering such debilitating defeats, w ould seek a return to hom e territory at the earliest possible moment, so military forces were concentrated along the railway line that traveled north-south between Penza-Rtishchevo-Balashov.128In addition, the m o­

Between Ambition and Necessity


torized units in Bakury lacked fuel and were unable to continue. Upon refueling, both the m otorized unit under Fed’ko and the cavalry com manded by Kotovskii traveled in a northwest direction to sit in ambush for the rem aining Partisan A rm y forces when they attempted to recross the Khoper River toward Tambov Province. However, neither the armored trains dispatched from Penza nor the soldiers under Kotovskii were able to pick up the rebels when they crossed the railway and the Khoper on 5 June. Less than 100 versts from the provincial bor­ der, Antonov and his remaining followers could have been excused for thinking that their nightmare turn through Saratov and Penza provinces was coming to an end. W ith the remnants o f what had been six regiments, including the “ Special” regiment that had always traveled with Antonov, the Second Partisan A rm y (now num bering about 1,000 men) reached the confluence o f the Vorona and Chem bar rivers, only ten versts from the Tambov-Penza border, on 6 June. There, near the village o f Chernyshovo, they were attacked for the fourth time in one week by Fed’ko’s armored vehicles. The encounter followed a familiar pattern, with the rebels taking refuge in the nearest forest (Shiriaevskii Forest, through which the Vorona River cuts a swath), after having suffered some 200 casualties. A ntonov himself famously received a head wound at Cheryshovo, the first time he had been known to suffer a serious wound since the beginning o f the insurgency.129 The Red Arm y forces now assembled in the immediate vicinity appeared to have the rebels trapped in the Shiriaevskii Forest, having taken up positions near all o f the main villages on either bank o f the Vorona River and across the border in Peresypkino volost (Kirsanov uezd). An attempt by Antonov s men to break out o f the forest confirm ed their predicament, as they immediately encountered Red A rm y troops and suffered dozens o f casualties before retreating to the safety o f the woods. O n 7 June, however, the small core o f rebel fighters and their leader, Antonov, encountered a stroke o f good fortune that allowed them to escape with their lives. A severe thunderstorm that night forced the Third VChK infantry regi­ ment to withdraw from its position guarding the banks o f the Vorona to the south o f Shiriaevskii Forest to seek cover in the nearby village o f OFshanka. The w ith­ drawal o f this regiment enabled the rebels to escape under the cover o f darkness, rain, thunder, and lighting. W ith a mere 200 men, Antonov traveled south along the banks o f the Vorona toward the region o f Kirsanov uezd that he called home. The path home brought a second stroke o f good fortune. Along the railway that extends east from Kirsanov toward Rtishchevo, the Red Arm y had placed an armored train group (the open-platform type, called a broneletuchka) to patrol the stretch covering the perpendicular crossing o f the Vorona River. But on the


Between Ambition and Necessity

evening o f the thunderstorm and Antonov’s escape south in the very direction o f this stretch o f railway, the patrol was forced to move from its position to allow General U borevichs personal train to pass. Because o f the complications caused by this unexpected traffic incident, the remaining rebels with Antonov reached the southern half o f Kirsanov uezd unscathed.130

D espite the minor farce that concluded this intense series o f clashes between the Red Arm y and the Second Partisan Army, there was no doubt that the be­ ginning o f June had witnessed a debilitating defeat for the Partisan Arm y and for the cause o f the insurgency.131 N ot two months had passed since the brief occu­ pation o f Rasskazovo had caught the attention o f Soviet officials in Moscow, when the Partisan Arm y appeared to have reached a watershed in their organi­ zation and strategy that confirmed their ambitions after a winter o f effectively uncontested supremacy. However, their failure to realize those ambitions only strengthened the claims being advanced by the Soviet government in the province. The insurgency was adrift, w ithout goals and w ithout purpose, during a time when the survival o f individual communities relied upon the restoration o f “nor­ m al” life. “N orm al” life, however, was far from being realized. W hile the Soviet govern­ ment continued to press local communities to return to the fields and to place faith in the promised concession o f the tax in kind, the Plenipotentiary C o m ­ mission in Tambov simultaneously raised the stakes, bringing the conflict closer to the villages than it had previously been. The strategy o f occupation ushered in by Tukhachevskii escalated the intensity o f the conflict, making the war against banditry both more “total” and more “mundane.” W ith the Partisan A rm y under pressure and significantly destroyed, the counterinsurgency effort in Tambov be­ came increasingly focused on the villages and the managed transition to a new life under Soviet government.




he o per atio n s co m pl et ed b y th e R ed A r m y p u rs u it fo rces in th e first w e e k

o f June h a d in flic te d losses o n th e P a rtisa n A r m y fro m w h ic h it w a s u n lik e ly

to recover. A n t o n o v ’s p e rso n a l w o u n d w a s e m b le m a tic o f th e w o u n d e d s p irit o f th e rebels, w h o fo u n d th e stra tegic a n d m o ra l c o n te x t fo r th e ir in su rg e n cy to have ir r e v o c a b ly c h a n g e d , m a k in g c o n tin u e d re sista n ce to th e S o v ie t state a n e a rly h o p e le ss cau se. Less th a n tw o w ee k s after A n t o n o v a n d h is m e n h a d c o m p le te d th e ir to rtu r o u s c ir c u it acro ss p ro v in c ia l b o rd e rs a n d b a c k a g a in , th e F irst P a rti­ san A rm y , le d b y B o g u sla v sk ii, e x p e rie n c e d a sim ilar, a lb e it less e p ic, e n c o u n te r w ith th e m o to r iz e d a n d c a v a lry p u rs u it fo rces o f th e R ed A rm y . A tta c k e d fro m th ree d irectio n s w h ile n ea r K a m e n k a in T a m b o v u e zd , th e estim a ted 2,000 rebel soldiers n a r ro w ly esca p ed a n n ih ila tio n in an area th a t h a d b e e n a reb el stro n g h o ld fo r m u c h o f th e p re v io u s ten m o n th s . T h e re g io n a lo n g th e b o rd e r b e tw e e n T a m ­ b o v a n d K ir s a n o v u e zd s w as n o w v ir tu a lly flo o d e d w ith R ed A r m y in fa n tr y a n d c a v a lry fo rce s, a n d as B o g u sla v s k ii’s m e n tra v e le d so u th fro m K a m e n k a th e y h a d n o tim e to re c o m p o se , a n d e ach p a u se in th e ir flig h t b r o u g h t a n o th e r a ssa u lt b y R ed A r m y p u rs u it fo rces a n d m o re casu alties. B y th e th ird w e e k o f June, th e reb el



Facets o f “Sovietizatiori

arm y was com posed o f only some 200 survivors whose desperation and panic was tempered only by vague assurances by commanders that their journey would eventually conclude when they joined up with Don Cossack rebels, in accordance with instructions from the PSR Central Com m ittee.1 The end came on 18 June, at the village o f Trukhtanskaia, where Voronezh-based Red Arm y cavalry trapped the remnants o f the First Partisan Arm y on the banks o f the Khoper River some twenty versts south o f Novokhopersk, firing their machine guns into the water as the fleeing rebels attempted to swim to safety. Boguslavskii him self was captured and killed during this engagement, bringing to an end nearly three years to the day his personal struggle against the Soviet regim e in Tambov, one that had begun with his participation in the uprising in the provincial capital in the sum ­ mer o f 1918.2 Intelligence reports based on the statements o f captured rebels, as well as the inform ation provided by cooperative villagers, attested to the fear felt by the sur­ viving rebel units, where discipline and group cohesion were rapidly declining as supplies o f food and am m unition became harder to secure and the pressure ex­ ercised by the Red Arm y intensified.3 M any small groups o f rebels, holed up in the woods following the final operations o f the organized Partisan Army, lived from day to day focusing upon mere survival. Government commanders reported with satisfaction on the desperate state o f those who ultimately surrendered after being unable to endure the material conditions and especially the insecurity in their forest hiding places.4 Short o f options, reliable information, and leadership, these men faced the worst o f dilemmas. As senior commanders had anticipated, the m ilitary operations against the Partisan Arm y were completed with only m inor setbacks once the required armed forces were brought to bear on the rebellion in Tambov. These were elite, mobile forces— m otorized and cavalry battalions and divisions— whose speed o f m ove­ m ent was a greater asset than their superior numbers. Yet the m ilitary defeat o f the main Partisan Arm y forces was only one aspect o f the pacification o f the re­ gion. Red A rm y commanders had recognized this at the start o f the year, and Tukhachevskii had similarly emphasized the twin goals o f military victory and the dem obilization o f resistance in the countryside when, upon assuming overall com mand, he spoke o f the overarching objective o f the “sovietization“ o f the re­ gion. The most violent period o f the conflict was only beginning after the m ili­ tary defeat o f the Partisan Army, as the Plenipotentiary Com m ission and Red A rm y took the counterinsurgency to the villages with the full weight o f the armed forces at their disposal. Yet “sovietization” involved m uch m ore than state re-

Facets o f uSovietizationn


pressions directed at village communities caught within the zone o f the conflict. Dem obilizing resistance to Soviet authority in the countryside and distancing local communities from the m em ory o f rebellion involved the entire complicated experience o f occupation, which com bined extraordinary elements involving ex­ treme risk and danger with more mundane, quotidian interactions and concerns that worked to underscore the shared desire for a return to normality.

ORDER NO. 171 AND THE “ OCCUPATION OPERATIONS” W hile the one-m onth deadline given to Tukhachevskii by VTsIK for the final liq­ uidation o f the insurgency was unlikely to be met, recent developments appeared to produce results that represented substantive steps in that direction. The de­ feat o f Antonov’s Second Partisan Arm y was a particular breakthrough, one given widespread publicity within the province to boost the morale o f government loy­ alists who had endured such a prolonged period o f setbacks and hardships.5 The confidence o f leaders in Tambov was articulated further in an order to the five m ain political commissions o f the m ilitary sectors, issued on 11 June. “ Since the 1 June,” read the preamble, “the decisive struggle with banditry has begun to pro­ duce the rapid pacification [uspokoenie] o f the region. Soviet authority is steadily being established, and the laboring peasantry is m aking the transition to peace­ ful and undisturbed work. The Antonov band has been broken up by the decisive actions o f our forces, and the remainders have been reduced to functioning in isolation.” The remainder o f the order contained instructions that appeared to run con­ trary to the trium phal tone o f the preamble. Order no. 171 built on the recent successes against the remaining forces o f the Partisan Arm y b y shifting attention once again to the villages and to the task o f “definitively uprooting SR-banditry” by elaborating on previous instructions to this effect, notably Order no. 130, issued soon after Tukhachevskii’s arrival in Tambov in M ay 1921. The new order read:12 * 3 1. Civilians w ho refuse to provide their true names [to Soviet authorities] w ill be sum m arily shot. 2. Hostages w ill be taken by the sector or regional political com m issions from villages believed to be secretly holdin g w eapons, and in the event that hidden w eapons are not surrendered, those hostages w ill be sum m arily shot. 3. In the event o f hidden w eapons bein g foun d in the possession o f a given household, then the eldest w orking m em ber o f that fam ily is to be sum m arily shot.


Facets o f “Sovietizatiori

4. A n y fam ily w ho has allowed their hom e to be used to hide a bandit w ill be placed under arrest and deported from the province, with all their possessions con ­ fiscated and their senior w orking m em ber executed. 5. A ny families w ho assist in hiding either the fam ily o f a bandit or a bandit fam ­ ily’s possessions w ill be looked upon b y the state as a bandit fam ily themselves, and the eldest w orking m em ber o f that fam ily w ill be executed. 6. In the event o f a bandit fam ily taking flight from their village, the possessions o f that fam ily w ill be redistributed am ong peasants loyal to the Soviet state and the house o f the bandit fam ily either burned or dismantled. 7. The present order m ust be carried out rigorously and m ercilessly [surovo i besposhadno ].6

This was obviously an escalation o f the campaign to eradicate the “disease” o f banditry that Tukhachevskii had identified when he assumed com mand the pre­ vious m onth. Isolating the bandits meant intensifying the pressures placed on the village communities that had previously formed the backbone o f the Parti­ san Arm y and still provided security to individual rebels and the remaining lead­ ers o f the insurgency. This m uch was clear from the experience over the previous weeks with oper­ ations mandated by Order no. 130. The main condition that had complicated efforts to carry out this measure was the rebellion itself, which made it difficult for So­ viet authorities to enter m any o f the most “bandit-filled” villages to check names against lists and take hostages from among the civilian population. But even in areas that Red Arm y units and government agents were able to penetrate in late M ay and early June, the refusal o f individuals to provide their true surnames was only one com plication that limited the effectiveness o f the order. In some cases where lists were maintained by surviving local soviet officials, rebels or villagers had managed to seize and destroy the lists to prevent officials from carrying out O rder no. 130. In one village in Kirsanov uezd, according to the head o f the sec­ tor political commission, fifty-two o f the fifty-six families on the list o f “bandit” households had already abandoned their homes and the village. Some had taken their possessions, while others had left them behind. M any o f these families m oved to “nonbandit” villages within the province that would not be targeted by the political commissions, while others went into self-imposed exile outside the province to avoid the consequences o f having been implicated in the insurgency. In other villages, it was suspected that “bandit” households had given their pos­ sessions to neighbors to keep them safe from confiscation, while still other fam ­ ilies had buried their possessions, to be collected after the risk o f confiscation had passed.7

Facets o f “Sovietization”


It was no surprise that village communities would work to complicate puni­ tive orders such as this, but the extreme nature o f the state’s response that came in the form o f Order no. 171 must have startled even those frustrated by the w ill­ ingness o f certain communities to protect “their” bandits.8But an element o f fear lay behind the order. Despite the intelligence reports o f an “amm unition famine” that debilitated the rem aining insurgents, the countryside was believed to be awash with weapons. In addition, Soviet officials were convinced, not without reason, that m any one-tim e rebels had managed to escape detection and had re­ turned to “norm al” life in the villages. Declarations that preceded Order no. 171 urged rebels to surrender, even threatening those who hid in the forests that they would be burned out, but such declarations had been made before w ithout sig­ nificant effect.9 Recent amnesties had attracted many individuals to surrender, but a significant num ber adm itted to having been deserters or draft dodgers rather than active Partisan A rm y soldiers, and m ost w ho sought amnesty ap­ peared before Red Arm y or political commission authorities without “weapons in hand,” that basic provision o f all such amnesty offers to reassure state officials that a renewal o f hostilities was less likely as a result o f an offer o f amnesty.10 Order no. 171 conveyed a strong suspicion that the remnants o f the Partisan Army, following


defeats o f the previous fortnight, would melt away with their weapons, only to reemerge at a more auspicious moment when the occupation by Red Arm y troops was ended. Red Arm y and Cheka intelligence reported on rumors o f an order issued by A ntonov after the defeat o f the Second Partisan A rm y for rebel soldiers to hide their weapons and seek to reintegrate into their native communities for precisely this reason.11 Although the existence o f such an order has never been confirmed, the rum or was so widespread as to provide sufficient confirmation for Red Arm y and Plenipotentiary Com m ission officials, who cited the rebels’ plans when jus­ tifying their intensified efforts to round up suspected bandits and bandit sym ­ pathizers.12 The first public report o f this so-called order appeared in July 1921, when the local press carried the following story: “From the interrogations o f rebel prisoners, it has been established that Antonov issued an order to the bandit gangs to break up into small groups and to hide in the forests until the reds have left. Bandit leaders are to bury rebel weapons in the ground themselves, so that the average bandits will not be able to locate them and hand them in when they seek amnesty.” 13W hile the propaganda value o f such a report is clear, the actual con­ tent o f this story, in particular the final detail regarding “bandit leaders” and “av­ erage bandits,” is subtle enough to bolster the veracity o f the account and to make


Facets o f “Sovietizatiori

it less likely that it was the invention o f Soviet propagandists, whose w ork dur­ ing the insurgency had largely been short o f nuance. Regardless o f whether this instruction came from Antonov and the Partisan Army, the propagation o f the rum or itself revealed the diminished morale within the rebel camp and among the erstwhile partisan population, just as the attention given to the rum or by Soviet authorities said m uch about their own fear that the “disease” o f banditry m ight fall into remission only to return and inflict m ore harm. The ability o f m ilitary and state authorities in Tambov to enforce the provi­ sions o f orders no. 130 and 171 improved as the occupation o f population centers within the m ilitary sectors grew.14 The network o f revolutionary committees in­ creased dramatically in June 1921 following the major Red A rm y operations, and the network effectively extended down to the volost and even village level in cer­ tain areas, rather than remaining limited to the regional level, as it had before the Red Arm y’s successes o f late M ay and early June.15 Critical to this expansion was Red A rm y dem obilization, as noted in chapter 7. If they did not already hold strong pro-Soviet political convictions, form er Red A rm y soldiers were often drawn into service in the revkoms after viewing the destruction visited on their homesteads by the rebels, and more generally when faced with the catastrophic econom ic situation that affected all families in the Tam bov countryside. Service in the revkoms not only gave them an institutional authority within their native village, it also represented a source o f income— factors explaining both the growth o f the revkom network and its compromise through corruption and other abuses. Government officials maintained lists o f demobilized servicemen who had ex­ pressed a willingness to serve in local institutions such as the revkoms, and in some regions, over 80 percent o f revkom members were Red A rm y demobs.16The com ­ mittees also provided an outlet for refugee members o f the Com m unist Party, those who had been forced to evacuate their homes during the first months o f the insurgency when the system o f village and volost soviets was destroyed by the rebels and by angry village communities. They were joined by several hundred Com m unist Party members mobilized from other provinces to participate in the occupation o f the insurgent territory o f Tambov. Having an institutional base in the countryside made it easier to enforce or­ ders no. 130 and 171, as inform ation regarding the local population could be col­ lected in advance and individual villages or districts could be targeted on the basis o f more recent intelligence. The operations, however, were conducted as they had been with Order no. 130, by a five-man commission (or piaterka) that could include members o f the uezd soviet executive and Com m unist Party or­ ganization, the local revolutionary tribunal, the Red Army, and the Special De-

Facets o f “Sovietiza tion ”


partm ent o f the Cheka. A piaterka would be appointed by the Plenipotentiary Com m ission for a given operation, although the same five-man group could be involved in multiple operations within a m ilitary sector. A n example is the p i­ aterka appointed to enforce Order no. 130 in the volost o f Parevka.17 O n 14 June, the political com m ission o f the First M ilitary Sector issued a “sentence” con­ demning Parevka, stating that the volost “finds itself on the black list as a village [sic] o f bandits and traitors o f the laboring people.” All adult members o f the volost communities were considered “guilty before the Revolution” o f involvement in the insurgency.18Following this declaration, the piaterka was charged with en­ forcing the provisions o f Order no. 130 within forty-eight hours, and at 3 a . m . on 16 June the following notice was posted in the volost township: 1. Parevka volost w ill be placed under m artial law as o f 4 a .m . o f 16 July 1921. 2. N o one is to leave the volost w ithout the form al perm ission o f the com m an­ dant o f the Plenipotentiary Com m ission. 3. A ll m ovem ent w ithin the volost between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. is forbidden, except for those given special perm ission b y the PIATERKA. Failure to observe these conditions w ill be punished in accordance w ith the norm s o f revolutionary tim es.19

Having served notice o f their presence and intention to conduct a sweep o f the villages in the volost, members o f the piaterka would return with armed support after dawn with a second order, this time read aloud. The details were as follows: The population o f Parevka is given 3 hours to fulfill the following: 1. H and over all bandits and deserters hiding in the volost. 2. Surrender all hidden firearms and other weapons, as well as any am m unition, that have been acquired from the bandits over the course o f 1920-1921, as well as those firearms acquired from the Fifty-sixth D ivision in June 1919.20 3. The population m ust surrender all equipm ent and uniform s that have been given to them for safekeeping. 4. Hostages w ill be taken from am ong the local population to ensure that these orders are fulfilled. If after three hours the orders have n ot been fulfilled in their entirety b y the p o p u ­ lation o f Parevka volost, then the hostages w ill be executed and the punishm ents outlined in the sector political com m ission’s order o f 14 June w ill be carried out.21

Parevka was the first test case for the new hard-line practices sanctioned by Order


Facets o f “Sovietizatiori

no. 171.22 Not believing that the piaterka s threats w ould be carried out, the first three-hour deadline was not met, as villagers refused to hand over bandit sus­ pects and the weapons and supplies they were alleged to possess. Some eighty hostages were then publicly executed, and another group o f hostages were taken. It was then that this new batch o f hostages immediately began to point out com ­ m unity members who were either rebels, the fam ily o f rebels, or were known to be hiding items from the state authorities.23 Word o f the success o f the Parevka operation spread rapidly, and when the piaterka m oved on to other volosts following this operation, the ground was al­ ready well prepared by rum or and by fear. Kamenka and Inokovka were similarly targeted w ith “sentences” and orders posted at dawn. In both places, hostages were shot following resistance from local communities, but as with Parevka, re­ sistance quickly turned to cooperation as principle yielded to self-protection and survival. Soviet officials in the First M ilitary Sector proudly reported that in Inokovka, one old man marched his son out to the members o f the piaterka and said,

“ Here’s

another bandit for you.”24 The m ethod introduced at Parevka quickly became the standard for such operations in all the m ilitary sectors, and officials claimed, perhaps with some exaggeration, that in the first three weeks o f June over 11,000 suspected rebels had been rounded up in the course o f these “occupation oper­ ations,” m ost o f whom had been apprehended only since the Plenipotentiary Com m ission sanctioned the extreme methods o f Order no. 171 on 11 June.25 The impressive results reported in the sector that experienced m ost o f the special op­ erations since the publication o f the order give an indication o f the breakdown o f such grand totals. In the First M ilitary Sector o f Kirsanov uezd, operations in the m onth o f June saw the capture o f 665 rebels (only 10 with weapons) and 777 deserters. The operations also prom pted the surrender o f 246 rebels (36 with weapons). O ne hundred and five families were taken hostage in the course o f these operations, a total o f 565 people. The total num ber o f bandits, deserters, and hostages taken over the previous weeks was 2,254. Some fifty-five homes were burned as part o f the punitive measures, although curiously it was claimed that only five hostages were killed.26 The destruction o f an entire com m unity was not unheard o f in cases where a village was deemed to have had strong links with past and current rebel groups. Such was the case with a small village in Kurdiuki volost (Kirsanov uezd), which had the misfortunate to play host to a small group o f rebels (reportedly led by Ivan Ishin) while a government piaterka was conducting operations elsewhere in the same volost. The punishment for the village com m unity o f Kareevka-2, com ­

Facets o f “Sovietization ”


posed o f some eighty families (over 300 people), was swift and comprehensive. W ith the exception o f Red Arm y households, families were arrested en masse and sent to concentration camps. Their possessions were confiscated, as was all other moveable property in the village, such as church valuables. The families o f Red Arm y servicemen were resettled in the volost township o f Kudiuki and given the homes o f rebel families there, while the village o f Kareevka-2 was torched, re­ portedly destroying some seventy homes. Officials who oversaw this operation justified it on political and strategic grounds, not only because the village had consistently demonstrated support for the insurgents and thus deserved punish­ ment, but also because the location o f the village made it strategically valuable for the Partisan Army. Removing the village was thus expedient m ilitarily as well as politically. The same officials expressed confidence that the example m ade o f Kareevka-2 was having a considerable impact upon the population o f the sur­ rounding villages and that this severe punitive exercise had even prompted groups o f local rebels to surrender.27 It is impossible to know how m any hostages were killed or homes destroyed. While the activities o f the sector political commissions were highly organized and documented, operations carried out by individual m ilitary units in the country­ side were not. The same holds true regarding the families and communities that were banished from the province and deported to far-flung parts o f the Soviet Republic. There had been concerns from the very start when provincial officials in March 1921 raised the possibility o f exiling rebel families as means o f ensuring against further disturbances.28 The new chairman o f the provincial Cheka or­ ganization, M. D. Antonov, reported on these suggestions in early M ay 1921, high­ lighting the practical difficulties o f transporting hundreds, even thousands, o f families at a time when the rail system was in a chronic state o f chaos. He also de­ scribed the potential long-term implications o f exile and deportation: Those w ho are uprooted and resettled to various locations w ould preserve the spirit o f banditry that infects the peasantry o f Tam bov Province, and they w ill prove to be effective agitators for the SRs and kulaks. Tales o f the bandits, o f the forced deportations, and o f the insults and deprivations suffered, w ou ld travel far and w ide and find a healthy echo in the psyche o f the peasantry in other parts [o f the republic]. W hat is m ore, those mem bers o f the families that are participating in the bandit gangs w ill not sim ply give up any connection w ith their families. T hey will hold onto those connections, will learn o f the deprivations their fam ily members have suffered, and it will strengthen their resolve and even spread the sympathy that is felt for them am ong the peasant population.29


Facets o f “Sovietizatiori

Whatever the validity o f these concerns, the practical complications involved in managing deportations repeatedly compromised plans for large-scale operations o f this sort. The issue was raised before the Plenipotentiary Com m ission in Tam­ bov and the Antibanditry Com m ission in M oscow in June and July, and on each occasion was sent back for review.30There was evidently a persistent confusion re­ garding the ambitions o f officials in Tambov for such a practice, particularly if they meant to conduct mass deportations o f “bandit” villages or sim ply the exile o f individual families.31 Thus no decisive policy on deportations ever emerged in the summer o f 1921, even if exile featured prominently in public pronouncements, and the ad hoc use o f the practice meant that families and even entire villages were exiled from the province in punishment for involvement in the insurgency.32 Indeed, the only tim e provincial administrators settled on a clear policy con­ cerning the relocation o f entire communities, it was in response to food shortages and the emergence o f hunger in the autum n o f 1921, which was partially allevi­ ated by sending hundreds o f families to parts o f Siberia.33 This scheme, however, was voluntary rather than punitive. Order no. 171 had an undeniable impact, although results were certainly achieved with a much larger loss o f life than some reports would concede.34 Indeed, despite the open acknowledgment that the rural population had suffered considerably at the hands o f both sides throughout the conflict, within certain circles there ap­ peared to be an easy acceptance o f the utility o f demonstrative violence against villagers that bordered on enthusiasm. The sense that results were being secured with the new hard-line methods had an intoxicating effect on officials, m any o f whom had endured many weeks and months o f frustration and varying degrees o f fear while the rebels enjoyed free reign in the countryside o f southern Tambov. The chairman o f the Fourth M ilitary Sector political commission explained in a report in late June that the methodical conduct o f “occupation operations” even­ tually would encourage the local population to participate in the counterinsur­ gency effort: M y tasks not only included clearing the area o f bandits, seizing their families, and confiscating property and weapons, but also dividing up the population into bandit and nonbandit groups and enlisting the latter in the struggle w ith local bandits, and to accomplish this, I settled on the follow ing m ethod: if the population refused to surrender local bandits and weapons (and it did refuse), then hostages were taken by the hundred and the com m unity members were given thirty minutes to reconsider their position, and i f they still refused to cooperate, then we began to shoot the hostages, until such a tim e as the locals agreed to cooperate. As hostages we took

Facets o f “Sovietization”


came the focus o f efforts by state officials to control abuses o f authority that un­ dermined public confidence and support. As already noted, the revkoms had been integral to the counterinsurgency strategy since January 1921, but it was only with the massive reinforcements and other organizational and tactical improvements that accom panied Tukhachevskii’s arrival in M ay that the netw ork truly ex­ panded. The revkoms were staffed in part by Com m unist Party members at­ tached to local m ilitary garrisons, by Red A rm y soldiers, and by loyal local villagers, principally demobilized Red Arm y servicemen. As the revkom network expanded and became an alternative system o f local administration in lieu o f the village and volost soviets, their responsibilities and powers in connection with the counterinsurgency effort grew. In many areas where the Red A rm y presence was weak or distant, the security o f the existing revkoms was understandably tenuous, and reports from such areas described revkom members working during the day and secretly leaving the village at night due to the danger o f attacks.97 The capacity to antagonize the local com m unity was limited, however, by the muscle a revolutionary committee could call upon in the case o f disturbances. In villages situated near a military garrison, revkoms assumed greater responsibil­ ity regarding the daily affairs o f the local com m unity and grew more involved in the effort to root out the insurgency from the countryside. W hile earlier instruc­ tions had placed the revkoms at the heart o f the occupation strategy, setting rig­ orous standards for m em bership as well as a tim etable for their activities, appointed revkom members rarely met these standards and were frequently un­ clear as to their own duties and role until the arrival o f a stable m ilitary presence in the vicinity. M ilitary units could provide instructions on the proper conduct o f interrogations o f villagers, but frequently it was the simple presence o f armed support that inspired the w ork o f the revolutionary com m ittees.98 As noted, revkom members were to w ork on the basic intelligence provided by the Cheka’s Special Departm ent in creating lists o f “bandit” and “nonbandit” households, preparing the ground for the activities o f the piaterkas and other armed state aut









undertaking “occupation operations.” Pressuring local communities to surrender known rebels or identify those who had provided support for the Partisan Arm y and STK was not limited to these special operations, however. Not every village or volost was targeted, and in those localities the revolutionary committees en­ gaged in a much slower, although by no means more deliberate, process o f in­ terrogation and investigation to uncover and remove the “bandit element” from their midst. Interrogations b y revkom officials and the drafting o f written statements by

Facets o f “Sovietization”


men as well as w om en, w ho were also executed. This m ethod brought us satisfactory results, not only in terms o f bandits and weapons that were handed over, but also in that the local popu lation was b rou ght into direct contact w ith the hu nt for bandits throughout the region. In addition, the nonbandit element was immediately alienated from the bandit element in a village, and they quickly grew supportive o f our activities .35

Reliance upon public executions o f hostages to overcome the hesitation o f local communities was m ainly attributable to the continued threat o f reprisals from the rebels. As certain officials explained, villagers had grown accustomed to the flying raids o f Red Arm y units and the brief visits o f government author­ ities who promised rewards for cooperation with the Soviet state in its effort to suppress the insurgency. But for the previous several months, the only consistent presence had been that o f the Partisan Army, and in the circumstances o f June 1921 that meant a strong possibility o f reprisals against those who cooperated with Soviet authorities. The remaining rebel groups and surviving STKs had al­ ready signaled their intent to punish the families o f Com m unist Party members and Red Arm y servicemen if the operations under the authority o f orders no. 130 and 171 continued, and in some areas, such reprisals had already claimed the lives o f some families.36 Judging b y the reports o f such announcem ents, punishing the families o f Com m unist Party members and Red A rm y men represented an escalation for the Partisan Arm y and STK, even if those groups had already suffered violence at the hands o f rebels over the course o f the previous months. Still, the response o f the rebel leadership showed that the policies adopted by the Plenipotentiary Com m ission in Tambov in M ay and June 1921 had tangibly raised the threshold o f violence, even if the rebels’ ability to realize their threats was m inimal in com ­ parison with that o f the Soviet state.37 But it was the threat that the rebels would turn to punishing the civilian population that caused so many to hesitate before meeting the demands set by the Soviet government during the occupation oper­ ations. As the chairman o f the political commission in the First Sector wrote at the end o f June 1921: In the m ajority o f cases the peasantry approaches our operations w ith trem endous caution, preferring to remain a lo o f and avoid any activities that relate to banditry. As should be clear from m y reports, the peasantry is exhausted, broken, ruined, and they fear the representatives o f the Soviet state and Red A rm y as m uch as they do the local bandits. A n illustrative example involves a peasant from Kaban’-Nikol’skoe, w ho begged w ith tears in his eyes that w e w hip him in public so that the bandits


Facets o f “Sovietizatiori

w ould no longer consider him a com m unist .38

The tragedy o f such hesitation was that only punishments by the state could over­ come the fear o f rebel reprisals. In the words o f a revolutionary committee chair­ man in the Second M ilitary Sector: “W ithout executions, nothing can be achieved. Executions in one village have no demonstrative effect unless we are willing to carry them out in every village.”39 These operations were most effective in dismantling the network o f rebel STKs in the major villages and volosts that had supported the insurgency.40In June and early July the Special Department o f the Cheka com piled an impressive dossier on the activities o f the STKs in the province, from the provincial and regional committees down to the individual village STKs. In a landm ark o f the counter­ insurgency cam paign, at the end o f June seventeen members o f the Kamenka STK organization were captured by the Red Army, several o f them senior m em ­ bers o f the provincial committee that was also based in Kamenka. This coup not only removed a key com ponent o f the rebel organization in the countryside, but also provided investigators w ith a wealth o f inform ation regarding the extent o f that organization and the inner workings o f the Partisan Army.41 However, the task o f understanding the inner workings o f the rebel m ovement was secondary to the practical task o f uncovering its extent and arresting those who had partici­ pated. As such, the focus o f Special Department investigators working with seized STK and Partisan A rm y materials, as well as o f revkom mem bers and Cheka agents involved in interrogating captured or surrendered STK members, was very m uch on building up the database o f names that would guide future operations in the villages.42 W hile there was no open controversy surrounding orders no. 130 and 171 that rivaled that regarding the continuation o f requisitioning at the start o f 1921, it is difficult to believe that the hard-line methods and the strict centralization o f de­ cision m aking that had accompanied Tukhachevskii’s arrival in Tambov would have sat well with provincial officials who had frequently shown themselves to be jealously protective o f local prerogatives and occasionally protective o f rural com ­ munities. W hile no vocal protests erupted in Tambov itself, the punitive orders o f the occupation regime did provoke controversy in M oscow several weeks after they had already begun. In early July, the text o f Order no. 171 came to the atten­ tion o f Politburo members who had not been privy to the deliberations o f the A ntibanditry Com m ission, which had originally sanctioned the measure, and apparently after some days o f background discussions, there was enough oppo­

Facets o f “Sovietization”


sition for the Politburo to reconsider the operation in Tambov and demand the annulment o f the order. The principal agent behind these developments in the Politburo was appar­ ently A. I. Rykov, and it m ay not have been a coincidence that he had learned o f the contents o f Order no. 171 from the local Kozlov Com m unist Party newspaper, Nasha Pravda, whose 4 July issue reproduced the text o f the punitive order. That Rykov was sent an issue o f a local newspaper from the uezd Com m unist Party or­ ganization that had been at the heart o f m ost o f the political controversies in Tambov for the past three years is only suggestive o f local moves to undermine the policies being pursued by the Plenipotentiary Com m ission and the Tambov Arm y Com m and. O n 18 July, Rykov informed Trotsky o f the majority decision o f the Politburo to annul Order no. 171 and to recall both Tukhachevskii and AntonovOvseenko from Tambov. He was evidently concerned that the decisions o f these two men, while producing results for the counterinsurgency cam paign in the short term, would damage relations with the peasantry in a way that was incom ­ patible with the new orientation o f the Soviet government following the deci­ sions o f the Tenth Com m unist Party Congress in March. W ith a clear eye for repairing relations with the rural population in Tambov, Rykov recommended that the Plenipotentiary Com mission make a public show o f annulling Order no. 171.43 Rykov’s m em o to Trotsky appears to be the culm ination o f a quiet campaign to rein in the hard-line approach being taken by Red Arm y officers in Tambov since May. Before the Politburo decision regarding the annulment o f Order no. 171, arm y officials were already providing detailed reports on the results o f the Tambov occupation regime that in effect justified the very hard-line policies pur­ sued in previous weeks. S. S. Kamenev o f Red A rm y Supreme Headquarters weighed in on the situation just two days before the Politburo meeting on that topic, emphasizing the decisive im pact o f General Tukhachevskiis arrival in the province. Concentrating on the results o f the counterinsurgency operation— bandit surrenders, captures, and kills— rather than the methods used to achieve those results, Kamenev’s report was full o f praise for Tukhachevskii:44 “O n the whole, since the appointm ent o f Com rade Tukhachevskii to the com m and in Tambov, all the measures that have been undertaken have proven entirely ap­ propriate and effective, just as they had been successful in their application in the M insk region.”45 Tukhachevskii s sum m ary report, submitted personally to the Antibanditry Com m ission in M oscow on 17 July, provided further evidence— presented in a


Facets o f “Sovietization '

concise and dispassionate manner— o f the results achieved during his term in com m and o f the Tambov counterinsurgency operation, results that only slightly exceeded the one-m onth target given by the Politburo in May. The general em ­ phasized that his main objective upon assuming command was to make the coun­ terinsurgency a single, coherent campaign, to treat it “even as a war,” in his words. W hile the long-term objective was the “sovietization” o f the insurgent country­ side, in the short term the rebellion had to be broken militarily and politically using methods that differentially targeted the entire population. To those on the Antibanditry Com m ission, this approach was already familiar through progress reports filed by Tukhachevskii in previous weeks. The net effect for the province was that the Partisan A rm y was reduced from a force estimated to be over 21,000 strong in the beginning o f M ay to only 1,200 in mid-July. Nearly all the m ain rebel leaders had been killed, according to Tukhachevskii, thus m inim izing the prospects for a revival o f the insurgency in the short term.46 The general’s sum m ary report recommended m aintaining current troop lev­ els and com mand staff, as well as the number o f Com m unist Party members m o­ bilized for w ork in the province, to sustain the occupation until the end o f the year. He also recommended that no additional taxes be imposed upon the peas­ antry above those already anticipated on the current crop.47 Upon consideration o f Tukhachevskiis recommendations, the Antibanditry Com m ission agreed to extend the occupation system until October 1921, and it appealed to the Central Supply Com m ission to ensure that the current troop numbers were adequately supplied for the duration o f the operation.48 Planning for the future o f the occupation regime in Tambov, as well as re­ viewing the progress made in the past six weeks against the rebels, were integral to the rapid changing o f the guard in the province and Tukhachevskiis departure from the scene. In a sense anticipating the disquiet in the Politburo surrounding the methods o f the Plenipotentiary Com mission and military com mand in Tam­ bov, but also following a prearranged schedule for the counterinsurgency cam ­ paign in the province, S. S. Kam enev and Tukhachevskii him self sought the









release from com m and in Tam bov and a return to his previous duties as com ­ mander on the western frontier. The Antibanditry Com m ission agreed to this on 17 July, but it did not defuse the situation surrounding Order no. 171. The same commission met again two days later, this time with the participation o f Trotsky, who chaired a session o f this body for the first and only time in following up on Rykov’s m em o and the Politburo’s resolution on the annulment o f the order the day before. W ith no known critics o f the Tambov com mand present, and indeed

Facets o f “Sovietization”


with Tukhachevskii him self to provide whatever further explanation m ight be required, the commission predictably confirmed the necessity and effectiveness o f the methods pursued by Tukhachevskii and the Plenipotentiary Com m ission, stating: The order was intended above all to demonstrate to the m ajority o f the peasantry the full seriousness o f the situation that had been created b y the above-m entioned elements [wanarcho-SR-bandit elements” ] and demonstrate the resolve o f the Soviet state to pursue those elem ents b y any m eans necessary in order to preserve the security o f the republic and in order to restore its econom ic health. In addition, the Soviet state sought to put an end to the brutal tortures that the bandits regularly carried o u t against the defenseless workers and peasants w ho loyally supported Soviet power .49

W ith this strongly worded justification on record, the commission nevertheless agreed to the Politburos demand that Order no. 171 be withdrawn, although on the grounds that it had effectively achieved its objectives. The follow ing day, 20 July 1921, the Plenipotentiary Com mission in Tambov publicly announced the withdrawal o f Order no. 171 and the termination o f the “occupation operations” conducted under its authority.50 However, this announcem ent— officially issued as Order no. 234— was ac­ com panied by a secret instruction to sector political commissions qualifying the discontinuation o f occupation operations. The secret instruction stated, As a general directive, Order no. 234 can only be enforced in those areas where a transformation [perelom] can be clearly discerned in the attitudes of the peasantry, where it is manifested by the voluntary surrender of bandits with guns in hand, the surrender of firearms, handing over bandit leaders, and so on. On the other hand, where such a transformation is not in evidence, where the reports to the sector po­ litical commissions instruct that a withdrawal of Order no. 171 will be taken by the bandit elements as only a sign of weakness or hesitation by Soviet power, then Order no. 171 must remain in force and be pursued as before, in all its severity. In addition, in those areas where the discontinuation o f occupation operations produced a return o f bandit attacks and an end to local cooperation, the politi­ cal commissions were “ obliged to intensify immediately the severity o f the terrorn in that locality. “ Order no. 234 does not abrogate Order no. 171,” the Plenipoten­ tiary Com m ission “clarified” in its secret m em orandum .51


Facets o f “Sovietizatiori

THE OCCUPATION SYSTEM AND THE CONCENTRATION CAMPS Over the course o f M ay and June, the conduct o f sweeps for bandits and bandit families under the authority o f orders no. 130 and 171 quickly expanded both in the number o f villages identified for “occupation” and agents empowered to con­ duct these operations. Known rebel strongholds were designated for special oper­ ations orchestrated by the piaterkas, but regular military units and armed Cheka units engaged in the counterinsurgency were also involved in rounding up bandits and deserters that entailed punitive measures such as taking hostages, confiscating household property, and burning homes. As the occupation system developed, the newly formed regional militias became increasingly involved in these opera­ tions, as well.52 One o f the m any consequences o f this stands out both as em ­ blematic o f the counterinsurgency as a whole and as an indication o f how these two significant orders inspired contem porary criticism. This was the rapid and unsustainable expansion o f the “concentration camp” (kontsentratsionnaia lager') system in Tam bov in 1920-1921 in which the num ber o f makeshift internment camps for hostages and prisoners grew from three to seven and then finally to eleven. The expansion o f the camp network was directly linked with the realiza­ tion o f the occupation system and the use o f civilians as hostages in the effort to uproot the insurgency. It is enlightening to look at a snapshot o f the camp system in Tambov Province before this tremendous expansion in the summer o f 1921. W hen the rebellion broke out in the autum n o f 1920, there were three camps in operation in Tambov. O f these, the largest and oldest was in Tam bov uezd. According to its records, from the time o f its opening in July 1919 to the beginning o f November 1920, it had held a total o f 2,066 detainees, o f which 916 had been released and 117 had es­ caped (only 12 o f these were reapprehended). The largest categories o f detainees held at the camp were those convicted o f banditry (23 percent) and speculation (22 percent). M any o f the detainees had short sentences o f one year or less (40 percent), while just over one-fifth had slighdy longer sentences o f one to three years (22 percent). A number o f the detainees were held as hostages, such as m em ­ bers o f the registered “bourgeoisie” in the town o f Tambov, particularly during the period when the front lines threatened the province in 1918 and 1919, or hostages taken in the ongoing struggle with banditry. Both o f the other camps in Tambov before the outbreak o f the rebellion were much smaller. In Morshansk, the local camp was distinguished by the large number o f POWs— 65 percent o f the 490 de­ tainees in Morshansk were Polish prisoners o f war brought to the camp when it

Facets o f “Sovietization”


opened in July 1920. In the camp in Borisoglebsk, a significant portion o f the de­ tainees were suspected or known to have fought for the Whites. Most would pre­ sum ably have been transferred to the camp in Borisoglebsk, for by the time it opened in M ay 1920, the threat from the Don and Volunteer armies had already retreated.53 In essence, the camps were prisons, containing a wide variety o f detainees who, for one reason or another, were not considered to be violent criminals. M ilitary POW s were placed alongside kulaks and burzhui, speculators and thieves.54 The provincial Department o f Forced Labor, a part o f the soviet executive's Depart­ ment o f Administration (Otdel upravleniia), operated the camps, although other institutions, notably the provincial Cheka, the Revolutionary Tribunal, and the Food Commissariat, were empowered to com mit individuals to the camps. In the Tambov camp, there was even a concert hall and a library (containing over 600 “ items,” most likely political-agitational brochures). In the inflated rationaliza­ tions o f the camp directors, their purpose was not exclusively related to the short­ term security o f the republic; their objectives were informed by more “progressive” conceptions o f reform and redemption through hard work. Class enemies and “agents o f international imperialism” would be transformed into honest Soviet citizens during their m onths o f hard labor in the camps. According to Skubakov, the camp director in Borisoglebsk, The m ain difference between the concentration camps and the tsarist-era bourgeois prisons is the following: tsarist prisons only further corrupted and dem eaned the fallen, w hile the guiding objective o f the concentration cam ps in our great and free republic is n ot hum iliation but rehabilitation through service in these schools o f labor in o ur republic, such that up o n release these citizen prisoners w ill have overcome their wicked [durnye] instincts and will be able with confidence to engage in honorable w ork .55

This was to echo the comments on penal servitude contained in the Com m unist Party program adopted in March 1919.56 Toward the objective o f rehabilitation, prisoners would be paid for the work they performed, to be settled upon their re­ lease. According to the same camp director in Borisoglebsk, the daily cost o f the upkeep for each individual prisoner was thirty rubles and seventy-two kopecks. Each working prisoner would receive a daily wage o f forty-two rubles, leaving a daily take-home pay (or “surplus” ) o f eleven rubles and twenty-eight kopecks. The wage evidently was a significant indication o f the Soviet state’s respect for the dignity o f the individual prisoner.57 Cam p directors, playing their part, kept ac­


Facets o f “Sovietizatiori

counts like good factory managers, calculating overall w ork days and econom iz­ ing in areas that displayed an unsatisfactory level o f efficiency.58 If this represented the typical functioning o f a camp, as the directors in Tambov Province contended, then conditions at the end o f 1920 made such normal op­ erations impossible. Security had been a constant problem , especially when guards were natives o f the province, but the number o f prisoners was rarely over­ whelming.59The growing strength o f the rebellion in the province, however, made security a major concern, especially for the Borisoglebsk camp, which was lo ­ cated a fair distance from the town o f Borisoglebsk and almost completely cut o ff from the uezd town when the rebels effectively “blockaded” it in January 1921.60 At this time, the fear o f escapes was certainly at its height and there was little or no stability within the guard detachments.61 The shortage o f m ilitary personnel in the first m onths o f the rebellion meant that internal security (VO K hR and VN US) troops that served as guards were very likely to be transferred to assignm





patrolling the countryside, meaning that new, inexperienced soldiers would be as­ signed to guard duty at concentration camps. According to the Borisoglebsk di­ rector, a guard recently assigned to duty at his camp could expect less than a week o f service before being reassigned to active patrol duty.62 The lack o f adequate security, especially in light o f the increasingly threatening situation in the region, meant that prisoner work routines had to be abandoned. Even before the massive influx o f detainees in the summer o f 1921, the character o f the camps was chang­ ing, as the camp directors had to contain an increasingly restless population o f prisoners.63 The first response to this growing problem with camp security was to find spaces for inmates in camps outside Tambov Province. A small committee led by the new chief o f the Tambov Cheka (M. D. Antonov) and the head o f the provin­ cial Com m issariat o f Justice (Kizilov) was able to secure some 1,500 spaces in camps located in Saratov, Eletsk, Viatka, and Astrakhan.64 But this was only a stopgap measure, new prisoners continued to arrive. W ith orders no. 130 and 171, the num ber o f detainees increased dram atically, as hostages were taken from villages and held in camps until their sons and fathers surrendered. W hen Order no. 130 was published on 12 May, there were no plans to expand the camp system, and no preparations had been made to accommodate a large influx o f people— not just adult men and women, but entire families— in the existing three camps in Tambov Province.65 W ithin a fortnight o f the publication o f the order, Tukhachevskii was already reporting the seizure o f a “massive” number o f hostages from the villages occupied by Red Arm y forces.66

Facets o f “Sovietization ”


Tukhachevskii’s assessment m ay have been exaggerated, given the technical problems the Red Arm y forces were encountering in putting his occupation scheme into practice.67 Nevertheless, on 1 June 1921 the decision was made to “militarize” the system o f camps in Tambov. This meant placing them entirely at the disposal o f the Plenipotentiary Com mission and the Red Arm y com mand in Tambov and establishing seven more camps to cope with the rising num ber o f hostages and prisoners associated with the counterinsurgency effort.68W ith the publication o f Order no. 171, which significantly radicalized the enforcement o f Order no. 130 on hostage taking, there was a marked increase in the number o f people being deliv­ ered to the established concentration camps in Morshansk, Tambov, and Borisoglebsk. The prison camps o f 1919 and 1920— and the ethic o f rehabilitation through labor, so cherished by established camp administrators— were being rap­ idly transformed into the concentration camps o f the counterinsurgency opera­ tion. To prepare for the expected increase in the num ber o f hostages and prisoners, two camps were quickly established in Kirsanov uezd and another in Kozlov in June. A fourth was built near the railway station at Sampur (Tambov uezd). These four new camps were very basic; in the words o f a state official attached to the Department o f Forced Labor, they were not much m ore than “army-issue tents surrounded by wire fencing.”69 Soon after, cam ps were created in Tambov, Morshansk, and Borisoglebsk uezds, thereby bringing the overall num ber for the province to ten. O ne o f these new camps, “ No. 8” in Kirsanov, was inundated with prisoners and hostages as soon as it became operative. A progress report filed by the camp officials on 21 June stated that the total num ber o f detainees in the Kirsanov camp was 1,013, o f w hom 318 were hostages taken under the au­ thority o f Order no. 130. Another camp in the Second M ilitary Sector reported 796 hostages out o f a total camp population o f 1,605 in June 19 21- Because the policy o f hostage taking entailed placing entire families in camps, the Kirsanov camp in the second half o f June had 75 children between the ages o f one and five under its care.70 Officials in the provincial adm inistration warned that the camp facilities were hardly suitable for the care o f children. O ne official pointed out


22 June 1921: “ Keep in m ind the fact that these camps are built as tem porary structures (tents on bare ground), and this could lead to serious health problems for children.”71 W hile hostages were taken and held in other facilities, the ten camps in the province became the dum ping point for the vast m ajority o f those taken by au­ thorized units o f the Cheka and Red Army.72 Further instructions that accompa­


Facets o f “Sovietization”

nied the emendation o f Order no. 171 on 20 July 1921 addressed the problem o f the indiscriminate taking o f hostages, especially the elderly, pregnant wom en, and mothers with small children. According to these instructions, the practice o f hostage taking was not to be discontinued, only regulated and controlled. W hile on the one hand acknowledging that particular practices had to be refined and regulated, while at the same tim e clarifying (contrary to Order no. 234) that hostage taking must continue in certain trouble spots, the new instructions issued on 20 July emphasized the need to minim ize the general disruption o f families and com m unities by the counterinsurgency operations. For instance, in cases where unsuitable persons (such as pregnant women) were threatened with being detained as hostages because o f their connection to a suspected or known rebel, they were now to be given the “status” o f hostages while remaining in their homes. According to this new practice, if a suspect did not surrender within two weeks, his relatives w ould becom e hostages in actual fact, held in concentration camps and with all personal property confiscated.73 Other, seemingly contradictory, in­ structions held that children, pregnant women, and mothers with children were not to be arrested as hostages under any circumstances.74 In any case, the new in­ structions that accompanied the end o f operations under Order no. 171 confirmed that, in the background at least, concern over the uncontrolled practice o f hostage taking was arousing skepticism about the conduct o f the counterinsurgency effort. Nevertheless, the Soviet government addressed the widely recognized problem o f overcrowding in the burgeoning camp network only at the local level o f the in­ dividual m ilitary sector. Further instructions distributed in late July recommended the “removal from camps o f unfit (netrudosposobnye) elements, especially children.” This meant that wom en, children, and elderly people held as hostages should be released, with their status preserved and monitored b y local revolutionary committees.75 O bvi­ ously, this was to be perm itted only in cases where revolutionary com mittees were in place in a given locality. However, there were other complications. If the property o f a given “bandit” household had been confiscated by government au­ thorities, the return o f hostages meant that at least a m inim um o f possessions, such as the house itself, w ould have to be returned. But what if the confiscated property had already been redistributed among members o f the community, as stipulated in Order no. 130, or if possessions had mysteriously “disappeared,” as a significant am ount o f such property did? These problems were more difficult to resolve, especially when hostages were entitled to release because o f the sur­ render o f a rebel fighter who was a son, husband, or father. The instructions that

Facets o f “Sovietiza tion”


accompanied Order no. 234 stated that when the property o f hostages had been confiscated, the concerned hostages were not to be released immediately.76 Like­ wise, hostages were not to return to their native villages if the com m unity had is­ sued a declaration banishing the fam ily o f the suspected rebel. This form o f ostracism was sometimes encouraged by Com m unist Party officials working in the countryside, and it was taken as an indication o f loyalty to the Soviet regime. But com m unity members m ight also have an interest in making such a declara­ tion if the property o f a family had already been confiscated and redistributed.77 Such complications partially limited the impact o f the new regime on the num ­ ber o f detainees in the concentration camps after Order no. 171. Efforts to lim it the number o f children held in the camps were similarly in­ hibited by the incapacity o f the state infrastructure. The problem was all the more pressing, given the unsanitary conditions in the overcrowded camps, about which alarmed inspectors regularly inform ed provincial officials.78A special com m is­ sion was formed to m onitor the welfare o f children in the camps, and each camp adm inistration was to provide regular reports on the plight o f child hostages. Attempts were initially made to place them under the authority o f the Com m is­ sariat for Education and to place them in orphanages rather than the camps.79 But the small num ber o f such homes had already exceeded their capacity well before the rebellion in Tam bov reached its height.80Children who had to stay on in state custody as hostages rem ained in the care o f the cam p administrators and the D epartm ent o f Forced Labor. A t the beginning o f August 1921, there were 1,155 children under the age o f five still in the camps.81 Administrators in the more established camps in Tambov, Morshansk, and Borisoglebsk sought to deal with the situation as best they could, using scarce resources to set up crèches and schooling for the child hostages under their care.82 But the m ain sources o f concern were the recently constructed camps that had been form ed am id the insurgency. They had few perm anent structures and were administered by in­ dividuals lacking an outlook that extended beyond the context o f a counterin­ surgency campaign. Similarly, regarding the general welfare o f detainees, the camps established in the prerebellion period were m uch more willing and able to cultivate the “ethic” o f rehabilitation so dear to some camp commandants. In Borisoglebsk, this trans­ lated into a concern for the cultural life o f the camp. The political department maintained contacts with Com m unist Party workers in the town o f Borisoglebsk to organize concerts, theater performances, and public readings for detainees over the course o f 1921. In his report, the camp commandant (Skubakov) curiously noted


Facets o f “Sovietizatiori

with pride the fact that not all the plays and readings were o f a purely political character— they were standard dramas, comedies, and farces, in addition to pro­ ductions that could be categorized as ‘ agitprop.” 83 This approach did not have unanim ous support am ong Com m unist Party members, who believed that the hostages held in camps were effectively prison­ ers, not innocent victims o f the rebellion. Reporting to a party conference in the Third M ilitary Sector in July 1921, an official from the Borisoglebsk camp, Rychkov, spoke o f the efforts to improve the cultural life o f the camp inmates: In the concentration camp, reeducation has been pursued on a w ide scale. We have brought the bandits to understand what Soviet power is and what it seeks to achieve. Political enlightenm ent w ork is being undertaken. We have organized a [political discussion] circle. So far we lack a [Com m unist Party] club. We already have a choir in w hich the inmates take part. The choir perform s whenever we have meetings. In the cam p we have m ore than 2,000 inmates. In our library there are m ore than 100 visitors every day. O ur librarian is very experienced and is, in fact, one o f the inmates .84

A t this report, the chairman, appearing to represent the voice o f the average party member in attendance, interrupted Rychkov: “You there appear to be fuss­ ing over your bandits, organizing little sing-alongs and plays for them. A n enemy must be destroyed— you d o n t make a military concentration camp into a nice lit­ tle holiday resort for them.” A voice from the hall agreed: “A concentration camp is a concentration cam p— it’s not supposed to be like a visit to your auntie’s house!” Then accused by the same voice o f being a “hidden stooge o f the bandits,” Rychkov tried to defend himself: “Comrades! This kind o f criticism we have heard more than once, telling us that while we [Communists] are suffering one short­ age after another, you are there busily caring for that vermin [in the cam ps].” A n­ other voice then interjected: “Correct! W hy are we fussing like this?— I say up against the wall with the lot o f them and be done with it.” Rychkov, evidently ex­ asperated and offended, replied to the angry participants: This is just an unbelievable delusion, one that we have heard over and over again. “ Put them up against the wall— get it over quickly— o ur bullets are n ot just for show.” But to turn our erstwhile enemies into good, solid friends— this is w hat we should really be doing. O f course, I could understand if some [old regime] aristocrats or rich m en were to observe w hat w e are doing, then they w ould not agree w ith our goals. And, o f course, if some clear bandit-murderer does not submit to political reeducation and continues to go his ow n way, then he w on't be long for this world. But for those w ho got involved [in the rebellion] by mistake and w ho repent— their

Facets o f “Sovietization”


fate should be a very different one.

Another participant identified as Zakharov interrupted Rychkov once more. “Com rade Rychkov, you forget that we came here to talk with our guns and not with words— em pty phrases have no place on the field o f battle.” Ever more on the defensive, Rychkov again tried to justify his approach: “W ho here is planning to enter the field o f battle to carry on a conversation? No one! W hat has to be done in the battlefield is clear to everyone. But when the enemy surrenders or is wounded and becomes our prisoner in the camp, then the situation is completely different. You sim ply must not beat a m an when he is dow n!” O nce more, an angry voice from the assembly: “They would beat our man if he were down. They would try and beat our man to death, wounded or not. They would strangle the life out o f our man with their bare hands if given half the chance.”85 Rychkov was not winning any converts among the Com munist Party members assembled at the conference, all o f w hom were too close to the “ field o f battle” to appreciate the outlook Rychkov and the other camp administrators were trying to preserve amid the counterinsurgency. The dispute, though, was also part o f larger tension that characterized Soviet attitudes to penal servitude and toward designated “enemies o f the people.” The administrators o f camps that had been in existence in the province since 1919 had been inclined to view their detainees as subjects o f possible rehabilitation, and they sought to maintain this outlook, which they understood to be progressive and m odern, when the camps were m il­ itarized as part o f the counterinsurgency operation and prisoners and hostages began to arrive who either were victim s o f the rebellion themselves or were m is­ guided and worthy o f efforts at reeducation. O n the other hand, the Com m unist Party members who protested the soft line taken by men such as Rychkov saw the hostages and prisoners either as members o f a hostile class or as social miscreants who were essentially beyond rehabilitation and were best isolated from Soviet society or placed “up against the wall.”86 Certainly reeducation and “enlightenment” never truly entered into consid­ erations that inform ed the decision to em ploy camps in 1921. Nor, however, did the concentration camp tradition that dictated the isolation o f class enemies from the rest o f society. The camps were o f tem porary strategic value in the war against banditry, and they permitted the governm ent forces to exercise influence over the native population. Officials were well aware o f conditions in the camps.87 The population o f the camps was never constant, although overcrowding was a per­ sistent problem .88 W ith shortages o f provisions a continual w orry for the Red Arm y during the summer o f 1921, it could only be expected that the camps would


Facets o f “Sovietizatiori

Expansion and Flux o f the Cam p System, 15 June-24 August 1921 Cam p Number (Location)

Detainees, 15 June 1921

Arrivals, 15 June23 August 1921

Departures, 15 June-23 August 1921 Transferred to


C a m p s O u tsid e

f o r Various

Tam bov P ro v in ce


No. o f Inmates, 24 August 1921

No. 1 (Tambov)






No. 2 (Tambov)






No. 3 (Borisoglebsk)






No. 4 (Borisoglebsk)






No. 5 (Morshansk)






No. 6 (Morshansk)






No. 7 (Kozlov)






No. 8 (Kirsanov)






No. 9 (Inzhavino)






No. 10 (Sampur)




2 ,10 2







TOTAL Note: n.a. = not applicable

Source: GATO f. R-394, op. 1, d. 700,1.41

similarly suffer from lack o f food for the inmate population. As with the Red Army, the camps relied upon the local villages for supplies o f food, and people taken to camps as hostages were initially instructed to take as much food as they could carry for their own consumption during their internment.89 After several weeks, villages were called upon to deliver foodstuffs to nearby camps in order to provide for their fellow com m unity members held as hostages.90 Transfers were always an outlet for the provincial officials in the Department o f Forced Labor to relieve the overcrowding, and thousands o f detainees were sent to camps as near as Saratov and as distant as Irkutsk. A move to camps out­ side the province distanced those groups o f people from developments in Tambov, which in the short term m ay have been to their advantage, avoiding the extreme shortages and insecurities that plagued camps inside the conflict zone. Over the longer term, however, such groups risked being overlooked as provincial state and m ilitary leaders sought to wind down the occupation regime and reduce the number o f camps and prisoners. Cam p administrators outside the province m ay have questioned continued incarceration for these civilian hostages, as well, as the commandant o f a camp in M oscow Province evidently did in encouraging a

Facets o f “Sovietization ”


group o f Tambov peasants to petition the Commissariat o f Justice for return to their native province: We, the peasants o f Tambov, Kirsanov, and Kozlov uezds, Tam bov Province, were arrested in June 1921 . It is already now the fourth m onth that we, w ho include the aged, pregnant mothers, and children, have had to endure difficult conditions: we are hungry, sick, and am ong the children there have already been fatalities. As ignorant people, we do n ot understand w hy we have been arrested, nor do we under­ stand w hy we old people, children, and m others have been placed in camps while healthy m em bers o f our families and o f other families in our villages remain free. N o w the weather is beginning to turn cold, and we are w ithout w arm clothes and proper footwear, because when we were arrested we did not take w ith us such items, as being com pletely innocent, we never expected to remain incarcerated for such a long time, and we are still uncertain if we are here as hostages in connection w ith the antonovist bands or if we are here for som e other reason .91

Such groups o f people were often transferred to camps outside the province w ith ou t any accom panying docum entation, and all the com m andant o f the Kozhukhovskii camp could provide by way o f added context to the inmates’ pe­ tition was the fact that they had arrived at this camp on 24 July, arrested on the orders o f the “troika” operating in the Fourth M ilitary Sector. It is impossible to know how m any groups o f hostages, transferred to camps outside o f Tam bov Province, fell into a black hole o f incarceration and were unable to draw atten­ tion to their plight through such petitions. Typically, those who were transferred out o f the province were either captured rebels or “other” inmates, such as Com m unist Party members or Red A rm y ser­ vicemen who had committed infractions and had, for obvious reasons, to be sep­ arated from the vast majority o f native camp inmates.92A nd despite limited space and provisions, there were those who requested admittance to the camps for their own personal security. This was particularly the case with rebels who surrendered to Red A rm y or government officials and who feared reprisal attacks on them ­ selves and their families by other rebels in the locality.93 For them, the material and m oral hardships endured in the concentration camps were insignificant when placed alongside the risks they w ould court upon reintegration into their native communities. The camps could not have been anything but tragic, however, even if the few records we have concerning m ortality do not approach the kind o f death rates witnessed in camps operated by the British during the Boer War, for instance.94 The camps were unsanitary, overcrowded, and chaotic, problems that individual


Facets o f “Sovietizatiori

camp administrators struggled unsuccessfully to contain. But the camps were also undoubtedly successful for the purposes o f the counterinsurgency, serving as a real and om inous prospect discouraging villagers against supporting the re­ maining rebels and forcing them to make the kind o f awful and tragic choices concerning their own kin that were ultimately required for a return to peaceful, normal life. Certainly this was how most Red A rm y and state administrators un­ derstood the camps, and while the established camps endured into the 1920s as prisons, as they had been before the insurgency, there was a clear desire to dis­ continue using them to detain civilian hostages caught up in the rebellion and to dismantle the makeshift structures that had been hastily assembled amid the orgy o f hostage taking in the first weeks following the publication o f Order no. 171. But the camps were never as controversial as the sum m ary execution o f hostages had been. By 1921, detention camps, as well as civilian hostages, were an established feature o f Soviet policing and counterinsurgency operations, in a way largely in keeping with custom ary practices o f the European colonial powers in the early twentieth century.

C0VNTERMÛBILIZAT1ON: THE REVK0MS AND SELF-DEFENSE MILITIAS Nearly all concerned with the state counterinsurgency effort felt a tension be­ tween the need for sustainability and the drive for vengeance, itself partly a prod­ uct o f frustration and extreme insecurity. One o f the parting recommendations made by Tukhachevskii in July was to issue broad reassurances to rebels that guar­ antees o f amnesty would be respected by m ilitary commanders and state offi­ cials. This was emphasized in the pronouncem ents o f the Plenipotentiary Commission, which sought to publicize as widely as possible those cases in which rebel groups had been convinced to surrender en masse.95 Given the difficulties o f the swollen camp population, military sector officials were encouraged to use de­ tained hostages as intermediaries with outstanding groups o f insurgents to deliver these reassurances, as well as confronting the rebels directly with examples o f the kind o f punishment they were destined to suffer if resistance continued.96 Part o f the problem for m ilitary commanders and state officials was that the occupation system was growing increasingly com plex, and the principles in­ form ing the public pronouncem ents o f the Plenipotentiary Com m ission were frequently ignored in practice. There was no one culprit, but the expansion o f the network o f revkoms in the occupied countryside soon became the principal point o f interaction between civilians and the state, and these institutions be-


Facets o f “Sovietizatiori

villagers came to possess an alm ost ritual quality in which those called in for questioning provided assured, yet often formulaic, explanations o f their attitudes toward the insurgency and their involvement, if any, in known episodes o f re­ sistance or cooperation with rebels. A typical statement read:

I, Kolmakov, do not adm it guilt [vinovnym sebia ne priznaiu] o f participation in banditry, because w hen our village joined and during those times w hen the bands were here, I was ill and did not leave hom e; I did not rob anyone, I did not sabotage any rail lines, and m y son, Ivan Kolmakov, was forced at gunpoint by the bands only one tim e to go and sabotage the railway, but at no other tim e did he do this or any other [bandit] activity."

As with Kolm akov’s son, young men who were forced to concede some involve­ ment with the rebel bands would rarely admit to traveling with the Partisan Arm y for more than a week or two, and nearly all claimed to have been forcibly m obi­ lized. Such accounts conform ed well to the received understanding o f the rebel­ lion and its dynamics that had characterized official thinking since the first days o f the conflict. Uncovering the extent o f rebel organization and the level o f par­ ticipation in the insurgency in a given village meant following the trail o f refer­ ences that linked one statement to the next, calling anyone m entioned in one statement to corroborate or elaborate on that o f another. Young children were called in to verify the claims o f innocence made by the parents, and grandparents were prom pted to decry the "foolishness” o f the younger cohort in the village.100 Most statements, however, were simple protestations o f innocence and ignorance, providing a distinct echo o f the theme, repeatedly emphasized in Soviet propa­ ganda, o f a “dark peasantry” misled by “bandits” and “counterrevolutionaries.” The authority to question and to arrest people came with the power, under Order no. 130, to confiscate property from “bandit” households— the source o f the vast majority o f problems encountered by the network o f revolutionary com ­ mittees. There had already been difficulties w ith undocum ented confiscations conducted by Red A rm y units involved in the execution o f orders no. 130 and 171. W hile shortages and speculation were behind the abuses o f the Red Arm y units, in the case o f the revolutionary committees such punitive actions frequendy con­ tained an added element o f personal vengeance and local justice. This was espe­ cially true where Com m unist Party members returned to their villages to serve on the revolutionary committees, for they frequendy found that their own house­ holds had suffered considerably during the months in which the STK and Parti­ san A rm y had dominated. The same held for demobilized Red A rm y servicemen

Facets o f “Sovietization”


who became members o f the local revkom. But in truth, the political background o f an individual revkom m ember made little difference when the shared circumstances o f hardship and shortage met with opportunity. Household property confiscated under the authority o f Order no. 130 frequently found its way into the hands o f friends and fam ily o f those who served on the revkom. In many cases, including those in which the Red Arm y was behind confiscations, seized property— including firearms— went directly onto the market, in part fueling the revival o f private trade in the province as more and more items were channeled to the market towns o f Tambov.101 W hile the redistribution o f confiscated property to loyal households, particularly to the needy, did proceed, there were also several cases in which confiscated items were given to former “bandit” households rather than to the poor, if the revkom chair­ man was friendly with the family o f the known rebel. In Pakhotno-Ugol (Kirsanov uezd), six confiscated cows grazed in the field adjoining the offices o f the regional revolutionary committee, whose members had denied repeated requests from the local orphanage for some o f the livestock to be given over for the benefit o f the children.102 Records were rarely (if ever) kept o f confiscations carried out by the revolu­ tionary com mittees, just as they were rarely docum ented by any other acting authority ostensibly carrying out the provisions o f Order no. 130. The Plenipo­ tentiary Com m ission and provincial administration in Tambov were well aware o f this, principally through the w ork o f the three-m an inspection teams, or “troikas,” that had been in operation since February.103The troikas involved in in­ specting all levels o f local administration, from the surviving volost soviets to the newly organized revolutionary committees and regional militias, regularly vis­ ited these institutions or followed up on complaints. They were empowered to take immediate action against local authorities found to have committed abuses or were proved incompetent. Most often, such individuals were summarily dis­ missed, while in rare cases, such as those involving collusion with rebels, dis­ missed individuals were also handed over to the prosecutors o f the Revolutionary Tribunal. In part, the administrative troikas were designed to boost popular con­ fidence in the system o f local administration and policing installed by the occu­ pying authority.104 But the work o f the troikas was also very m uch a part o f the effort to uproot the rebellion, in that it was strongly believed that the new insti­ tutions o f local administration would provide cover for those with strong ties with the insurgency, especially those who had served in the village and volost STKs.105 The fear that the revkoms were being infiltrated by former Partisan Arm y rebels and STK members colored the interpretation o f troika reports regarding


Facets o f “Sovietization :

illegal confiscations and corruption within the revkom network.106 Examples o f this


existed, but such cases o f infiltration were nearly always about the exploitation o f local possibilities and ties within a com m unity to ensure individual survival rather than part o f a concerted strategy to sustain the rebellion.107 W hile provincial state and m ilitary officials were concerned that revolution­ ary committees m ight protect rebels and rebel families, much as local soviets fre­ quently protected young m en from m ilitary conscription, the context b y the summer o f 1921 had changed so radically that such incidents were exceptional. Troika inspectors were more likely to investigate reports o f overzealous revkom members sum m arily executing surrendered rebels than they were to investigate local officials working in cahoots with known insurgents, even if the Plenipo­ tentiary Com m ission was prom pted in late July to issue an instruction to all rev­ olutionary com mittees clarifying that they did not have the authority to independently try and execute surrendered or captured bandits.108 In a broadly sim ilar vein, the Plenipotentiary Com m ission was prom pted to consider the problem o f revolutionary committees rearresting former rebels who had been granted amnesty by government authorities. Such activities m ay have been the re­ sult o f corrupt motives, or m ay have been the innocent consequence o f m isin­ form ation, but the overall effect was to generate uncertainty regarding state amnesty offers and to set back timetables for the complete pacification o f the ter­ ritory. The Tambov Com m unist Party had sought to facilitate the integration o f sur­ rendered rebels back into their village communities by requiring individuals to sign a ten-point public oath o f loyalty to the regime, declarations that drew on re­ ligious motifs o f sin and forgiveness: 1 . 1 acknowledge the full severity o f m y crim es com m itted against the Soviet

governm ent during m y tim e w ith the band. 2 . 1 fully recognize the plunder and robbery that was com m itted under the mask

o f the false U nion o f the Toiling Peasantry, led b y that scoundrel A nton ov and his followers. 3 . 1 repent for all the blood that has been spilled on account o f m y ignorance and

foolishness, I repent for the fires that I have set, for the thefts o f peasant property that have been com m itted by m y ow n hand. 4 . 1 repent for the trem endous crim e that I have com m itted against the w ork­

ers’ and peasants’ government. 5 . 1 vow never to sin before Soviet authority in w ord or in deed, never to bring

Facets o f “Sovietization”


upon Soviet power any distress or injury, but instead I will w ork only to strengthen Soviet power and help it flourish. 6 . 1 swear to defend Soviet power against any attacks by bandits and brigands

[banditov i razboinikov]. 7 . 1 promise never to allow m yself to be deceived b y Antonov, Vas'ka Karas', or

any other form er bandit leaders. 8 . 1 prom ise to hand over any bandit that appears in m y village, for there is no

place for such black sheep in the Soviet flock. 9 . 1 give the solemn w ord o f a mistaken and repentant laborer to use all m y p ow ­

ers to help other m isled com rades see the error o f their ways. 1 0 .1 was once a bandit, a thief, and a brigand, a vagrant living in the swamps and

forests like a savage w ho had rejected the workers' and peasants' m otherland, u n ­ able to expect forgiveness— Soviet power gave m e back m y life and m y family, for­ gave m e m y crimes, and restored me as an honorable Soviet citizen and son o f the Great Revolution— Long Live Soviet Power !109

Such oaths formed the ritual basis for reintegration into the com munity for rebels who had surrendered and been granted amnesty. For the pardoned bandit, how ­ ever, return to the native village was not always straightforward. It was not un­ com mon for village communities to protest against the planned return o f a certain individual, especially if that former insurgent had harmed locals directly by par­ ticipating in acts o f violence or theft, or indirectly as a consequence o f the harm visited upon the village by government authorities conducting occupation oper­ ations.110 As already m entioned, com m unities did occasionally “ banish” rebel families that had been taken hostage by state agents, preventing them from re­ turning to their homes and, not insignificantly, retaking possession o f their pri­ vate property. In the case o f form er insurgents, however, the revolutionary committees were at the forefront in seeking to manage relations with the native com m unity in order to facilitate peaceful reintegration. In some cases, revkom authorities assigned local “caretakers” for amnestied rebels who would work to minimize any antagonism toward the man who had now publicly repented for his “sins” against the Soviet state.111 Public protest against the return o f former rebels and “bandit families” was only one way for communities to express loyalty to the regime, even if this may have often been a convenient by-product o f genuine antagonism or avarice. The introduction o f the revolutionary committees themselves provided the occasion for village declarations o f support for the Soviet state and denunciation o f the Partisan Arm y.112 Providing an organized basis for demonstrations o f loyalty was


Facets o f “Sovietizatiort

one o f the central tenets o f the occupation strategy, and the m ost im portant in­ stitutions in this respect brought to the villages during the summer o f 1921 were the self-defense militias, introduced by order o f the Plenipotentiary Com m ission on 17 July.113 The original order introduced the self-defense militia as an innova­ tion necessary to deal with the rapid transformation o f the conflict from one in which the rebels were organized into partisan regiments to one in which small groups o f five and ten bandits hid in the forests and survived only by attacking the villages. Self-protection required organization, and each village was obliged to form a m ilitia and to establish lines o f com m unication with the surrounding communities. In the event o f a bandit attack, however, the order stipulated that the organized village m ilitia must offer resistance and alert the local state and military authorities. The clear im plication was that failure to resist the bandits— indeed, failure to use “all available means” to destroy the bandits— would be taken as an unambiguous indication o f support for the insurgents. By mid-June, when this order was published, some village com munities or­ ganized self-defense militias independently in order to guard against bandit at­ tacks. This was particularly the case in areas on the periphery o f the conflict, beyond the organizational core o f the rebellion but where state authority was nevertheless weakened b y proxim ity to the conflict.114 State and party observers cited


examples o f spontaneous mobilization by villagers with approval, but the selfdefense militias o f the occupation required greater control over personnel and, especially, firearms, and they became active parts o f Red A rm y operations dur­ ing the period o f “m opping up” from midsummer 1921 into the winter. In this case, control began with yet more lists o f villagers; men between the ages o f sev­ enteen and fifty were considered eligible for service if they had no established connection with the insurgency. Naturally, the group that rose to the fore was demobilized Red A rm y servicemen, although those who had been too young or too old for m ilitary conscription during the civil war were also placed on the lists for the self-defense militia. Revolutionary committees were entrusted to oversee the organization o f the militia and instructed to choose only “ honorable citizens who are devoted to Soviet authority.” In some cases, the organization o f a village self-defense militia was preceded by a meeting o f demobilized servicemen, who as a block interest group understood their role in the current political situation, part o f which was to defend the com m unity and the Soviet regim e.115 Revkom members who were sent out to the villages to organize these militia groups also encouraged communities to produce declarations o f support for the m ilitia as a practical measure o f engagement with the governm ent counterin­

Facets o f “Sovietization”


surgency effort. Such declarations, like those produced at the behest o f C om m u­ nist Party and Partisan Arm y agitators in the recent past, were formulaic but im ­ portant devices for com m unicating a sanctioned context for understanding present developments. In the case o f Tokarevka, a village at the heart o f the in­ surgency in Kirsanov uezd, the resolution o f support adopted following the or­ ganization o f a militia on 22 July read: We the citizens o f Tokarevka, having heard the report o f Com rade Stepanov about the organization o f fighting brotherhoods [boevye druzhiny ], have decided w ithout hesitation to organize our ow n arm ed brotherhood from am ong o ur m ost trusted and reliable comrades in order to carry on the fight against the bandits, deserters, and criminal elements w ho refuse to leave us in peace. D ow n with the bandits, down w ith the deserters! Long live the fighting unit [0triad], long live the Red A rm y !116

There was nearly always a surplus o f volunteers for the self-defense militia, indi­ cating a genuine enthusiasm— at least, at first— for open engagement with the campaign against the bandits. Part o f this enthusiasm was motivated by practi­ cal considerations, such as the stipend for those who participated in the self-de­ fense militias, stipends that were paid in kind (typically grain) and w ould be sorely missed once the militias were discontinued in most areas later in the year.117 As with revolutionary committees, service in the local institutions o f the occu­ pation regime provided an authoritative foothold for newly returned servicemen who often entered into disputes with other villagers regarding land and property that had changed hands or disappeared during the conflict.118 The m ilitia attracted participants whose interest in defense was frequently “selfish.” Several men who volunteered for the militias were later accused o f being truddezertiry— people who had been exempted from participation in the w ork brigades engaged in harvesting, forestry, railroad repair, and so forth, owing to their attachment to a “state institution” such as a self-defense m ilitia.119 Indeed, in one volost in Kirsanov uezd where enthusiasm for the self-defense militias was initially muted, revolutionary committee members warned local men that if they did not volunteer for the militias, they would likely be reconscripted into the Red Army, which was on the brink (it was reported) o f a major conflict with Japan in the Far East.120And in one extraordinary case o f individual self-protection rather than com m unity self-defense, corrupt revkom officials helped a group o f twentynine former rebels— survivors o f a single Partisan Arm y battalion— secretly reg­ ister as a village self-defense unit in Karian volost (Tambov uezd). The crime was eventually discovered, however, but only after the militia had been armed and prepared for antibanditry operations.121 Because o f the importance attached to


Facets o f “Sovietizatiori

the self-defense militias, as well as the opportunities they provided for corrupt practices, their membership was constantly m onitored by revkom officials at the regional and uezd levels, and as a consequence membership was often quite fluid over the life span o f a single unit, as circumstances changed and inform ation about members was acquired.122 None o f these complications diminished the significance o f the self-defense militias as a practical com ponent o f the counterinsurgency regime. This m uch is evident from the num ber o f appeals to village and volost revolutionary com m it­ tees by volunteers for inclusion in the militia. Providing an oudet for popular in­ volvement in the state cam paign against the failed insurgency— what in other contexts has been termed counterm obilization123— inspired a concern for public displays o f loyalty to the regime that became part o f the cognitive demobilization o f resistance. Appeals for inclusion became an integral part o f militia formation, and they were frequently written on the reverse o f the paper containing the Plenipotentiary Com m ission’s Order no. 178. As an example:

I, [E. I.] Avgustov, from a p oor peasant background, declare m y loyalty to the Soviet regim e as the o n ly true authority and the governm ent o f all the people, and I sincerely hope to further the merciless struggle against counterrevolution and against the remnants o f banditry, and so I therefore ask the Vasil’ev volost revkom to enlist m e in the volunteer m ilitia o f the Tokarevka region.124

Similar appeals were written by individuals who were unable to immediately en­ list in the militia and were afraid o f how they w ould be viewed by state officials. Even when not permitted to enlist, some wrote letters to the revkom to prevent negative consequences. Ivan Poliakov felt compelled to explain his nonparticipa­ tion for precisely this reason:

I ask the volost revkom to appeal on m y beh alf [to the regional revkom] regarding m y exclusion from the list o f m ilitia m em bers due to illness, as I am required to be in Tam bov for m edical treatm ent and therefore am unable to participate in the m ilitia, but I nevertheless declare that I remain a steadfast defender o f the people against the bands.125

Such appeals were frequently commented on by local Com munist Party members or revkom officials, providing background inform ation on the applicants re­ garding their known or suspected ties with the rebels and even their political ac­ tivities before the outbreak o f the insurgency.126

Facets o f “Sovietization”


All was part o f the practical experience o f reviewing and demonstrating loy­ alty am ong the village communities that had previously been at the heart o f the rebellion. The active resistance by self-defense militias to the incursions o f local bandits, however, was a m uch less scripted and choreographed exercise. O b vi­ ously, disarming the countryside in the wake o f a ten-m onth rebellion ran con­ trary to the task o f distributing firearms to the self-defense militias that were quickly being formed under the auspices o f the revolutionary committees, and those that had been form ed faced an uphill battle to have the state authorities release guns and am m unition at all, not to m ention enough for all militia m em ­ bers.127 Red A rm y authorities in the m ilitary sectors were reluctant to arm the militias, arguing that they were not necessary to defeat the remaining rebel groups, and therefore releasing weapons back into the villages was unlikely to improve se­ curity and stability in the countryside.128 Lack o f firearms did not prevent village militias from organizing lines o f intervillage com m unication called for in the original Plenipotentiary Com m ission order, nor did it prevent them from or­ ganizing round-the-clock guards against bandit incursions. Lightly armed but organized communities could overwhelm small bandit groups and march them to nearby Red Arm y headquarters, successes that state officials believed only fed en­ thusiasm for the counterinsurgency effort.129 Objections regarding the distribution o f firearms to the militias were over­ com e in certain cases where officials were sufficiently assured o f the reliability and capability o f a given unit. In the late summer and autum n o f 1921 the m ili­ tias becam e active participants in several o f the m opping-up operations con­ ducted by the Red Army. Frequently, however, their involvement was limited to the highly risky but noncom bat tasks o f reconnaissance and scouting in the forests and swamps, searching out rebel locations and alerting Red Arm y units that would then proceed to “flush out” the rebels.130

RETURN Î0 THE FORESTS: FROM COUNTERINSURGENCY TO IM TIRM DITRY By the end o f July 1921, the days o f partisan suprem acy in southern Tam bov Province were already a m em ory becom ing ever more distant, and the maturing occupation o f the region had a growing influence over that memory. The efforts b y the Red Army, Com m unist Party, and Cheka to divide village communities and identify rebel supporters and their families had been a violent and painful process that nevertheless worked to instill a new solidarity in the villages, one that on the surface appeared artificial in light o f the previous spirit o f defiance


Facets o f “Sovietizatiori

demonstrated during the height o f the insurgency but nevertheless provided the basis for a genuine transformation in popular attitudes toward the Soviet regime. Reinforcing this transition were the actions o f surviving rebel groups who, no longer able to rely upon the support o f local communities and uncertain o f their survival, rapidly came to depend upon the very banditry that Soviet officials had consistently and publicly ascribed to them from the start.131 Deprived o f their major leaders and with their slogans and ideals sounding ever more hollow and irrelevant, the one-tim e partisans quickly became desperate bandits who preyed upon vulnerable communities. In mid-July, the last m ajor active rebel leader had been defeated by m obile Red A rm y forces. Vas’ka Karas’ and his Kozlov-based insurgent arm y had been re­ duced to only a couple o f hundred by the time the squadrons from the Third and Fourth Red Arm y Cavalry Regiments engaged pursuit, driving the former com ­ mander o f the “western” group o f the Partisan Arm y away from his operational base in Kozlov into the region along the eastern border o f neighboring Usman uezd, reportedly Karas’s native area.132 The hom ecom ing was brief for the rebel chieftain, however, as repeated skirmishes with Red Arm y cavalry diminished the number o f men under his com mand and, finally, on the m orning o f 17 July, Karas’ (whose real name was Vasilii Vasil’evich Nikitin-Korolev) was killed in battle.133 Other groups still remained, particularly in Borisoglebsk and Kirsanov uezds, but were finding it virtually impossible to prevail against government forces. M any were being led by individuals who had only emerged during this final, desperate period. W hile large amassments o f rebels could still provide stern resistance to the Red Arm y from their forest and ravine strongholds, such occasions were few and only briefly forestalled what was regarded as the inevitable conclusion to the Tam bov insurgency.134 The surviving rebels were desperately short o f supplies and ammunition. Red Arm y forces traversing the countryside had regularly discovered caches o f rebel guns and amm unition during the early weeks o f the occupation in M ay and June, but by the late summer they increasingly discovered hidden machine and artillery guns without bullets and shells, indicating that the guns w ould be retrieved once these supplies were secured.135 Nevertheless, there were continued fears that the remaining rebels were intent upon surviving through the upcom ing winter, in accordance with Antonov’s alleged “ last order,” and then resuming the struggle once the Red A rm y forces had been withdrawn. Such suspicions were reinforced by occasional pieces o f intelligence, and they provided a new gloss to the regular reports o f the hit-and-run attacks by rebels, who were targeting forestry workers and fishermen, among other vulnerable parties, who were not held to ransom

Facets o f “Sovietization”


nor often harmed, but had their equipment and stocks stolen at gunpoint.136 The conditions made forestry work impossible, in particular, leaving the woods open for local peasants to exploit freely and at their own risk.137 W hile the decline in the rebel activity in the summer had permitted the resumption o f rail traffic, the chaos that surrounded forestry meant that needed shipments o f w ood for fuel in the cities to the north had not resumed, and the fuel crisis in the towns o f the province itself continued throughout the summer and autumn o f 1921.138 Although there were isolated incidents in which larger groups o f armed rebels were caught in firefights with Red Arm y and Cheka units in the late summer, the m ilitary task o f the occupying forces was largely lim ited to cleaning out the forests, swamps, and gullies (ovragi) o f the remaining small groups o f desperate rebels. Rarely, however, did the occupying forces directly m ove into these d o­ mains and risk an ambush. Instead, most who were engaged in rounding up rebel groups focused on isolating the surviving rebels and maintaining or creating con­ ditions that would force surrender. Bleeding the rebel groups that had dug them­ selves in and established hiding positions in the forests and swamps meant encouraging a steady flow o f defections and surrenders, a process that could achieve a certain m om entum as form er rebels were enlisted in the effort.139 In the Sixth Military Sector (covering southern Kirsanov, northern Borisoglebsk and southeastern Tambov uezds), which had been created following Tukhachevskii’s arrival in the province in M ay and encompassed the true heartland o f the insurgency, the occupation included a significant force o f officer cadets. This force numbered over 15,000, with infantry, cavalry, and artillery cadets brought in from twelve Red Arm y academies in European Russia and Ukraine. The force had been organized for the single purpose o f occupation in Tambov, for officer cadets were expected to be disciplined and reliable in a way that m any regular Red Arm y units were not (over 75 percent o f the cadet force were Com m unist Party or Komso­ m ol m em bers).140 Moreover, conditions in Tam bov were considered ideal for training Red A rm y officers in the necessary skills o f counterinsurgency, which they were likely to need often as the Soviet government looked to consolidate its control over the territories o f the former Russian Empire. In effect, the Sixth M ili­ tary Sector, based in the important village o f Inzhavino, was to becom e a train­ ing ground in fundamental combat skills for a young generation o f Red Arm y officers.141 The Sixth Sector included the slow-m oving, forested section o f the Vorona River and its branching streams, with dozens o f small swamps, adjoining lakes, and tenuous m arshy islands that had long been a virtually secure and unap­ proachable hiding place for outlaws. It included unusually deep and extensive


Facets o f “Sovietizatiori

ravines, overgrown with vegetation and difficult to penetrate. Whereas m uch o f the land encompassed b y the rebellion in Tam bov was flat and dom inated by farmland and moderate-sized villages, southern Kirsanov was ideal terrain for guerrillas and outlaws, and it was in this region that the Soviet occupying au­ thorities faced their most difficult challenges in returning political stability and security to the countryside. For this reason, the m ilitary commissar in Tambov, Shikunov, referred to the cadet force deployed in the Sixth Sector as his “ lions,” for they faced the greatest danger o f any o f the occupying forces.142 The cadets suffered the same practical complications that all occupying forces encountered following their deployment in the province, when the organization o f supply lines was slow in taking shape, and the first weeks o f their assignment were spent settling in and even gathering whatever food they could secure, in­ cluding fishing for carp and crayfish in local waters.143 They did not participate in m ilitary operations during this initial period, and because o f the partially ped­ agogical nature o f their assignment, Red Arm y commanders sought to delay their participation in active operations until adequate support structures and train­ ing staff were set up. In addition, the cadets were initially left in larger form a­ tions and groupings that were unsuitable for active operations but were nevertheless safer in the short term.144 By June, following the defeat o f the Second Partisan Army, the cadet force underwent reorganization and redeployment to re­ alize the occupation o f the region, dispersing across the sector with single units (iotriady), com posed o f multiple infantry battalions and a cavalry regiment that were garrisoned in m ajor villages and had an operational reach o f five to six volosts each. Throughout June and July, the cadet units were involved in much the same antibanditry activities as other Red Arm y units, including the conduct o f “occupation operations” and day-to-day involvement in the activities o f the rev­ olutionary committees. By the end o f July, however, attention turned to the task o f cleaning the rugged countryside o f the Sixth M ilitary Sector o f surviving rebel groups. The garrisoned forces were regularly assembled for single operations to clear individual forests or discrete areas, operations that were typically well planned and inform ed by reg­ ular intelligence regarding the size and morale o f rebel groups provided by local villagers, surrendered rebels, or scouting parties, including airborne reconnais­ sance. The size o f the cadet forces assembled for individual operations was typi­ cally determined by the area that needed to be encircled rather than the suspected size o f the rebel contingent within. The typical procedure involved an initial sus­ tained artillery bom bardm ent o f the forest where rebels were hiding. If all went according to plan, this would be enough to throw the rebels into a panic and at­

Facets o f “Sovietization”


tempted flight, after which they would be caught by the Red Arm y forces arrayed along the periphery. W ith some experience, sector commanders recognized the need for cavalry troops to participate in the encirclement, as foot soldiers were in­ capable o f coping with m ounted rebels.145 W here the Vorona River provided a natural barrier, local Red Arm y commanders arranged for machine gun-m ounted pontoon boats to patrol the waters and intercept any rebels who attempted to swim to safety.146 The final stage o f these operations was always the m ost dangerous, for no in­ fantry battalion relished the opportunity to enter a forest or ravine to flush out the remaining rebels, even after a prolonged artillery or machine gun barrage.147 Sector commanders sought to mitigate the soldiers’ natural unease by prom ot­ ing a com petition whereby the unit that captured or killed the greatest number o f rebels would be rewarded.148But the fear o f ambush always cast a pall over sol­ dier morale during these m opping-up operations, and because o f the risks in­ volved, m ilitary officials sought every possible way to encourage the voluntary surrender o f recalcitrant rebels. The difficulty and danger o f these operations also prom pted m ilitary com ­ manders to use more dangerous and controversial weaponry. A subject still lack­ ing full detail is the use o f chemical weapons in the counterinsurgency campaign under Tukhachevskii. Certainly poisonous gas was used by Red A rm y forces, and the use o f gas was probably intended to be m uch more extensive than circum ­ stances permitted. O nly the lack o f trained specialists, and a certain degree o f re­ straint exercised by local commanders, prevented Tambov becom ing yet another training ground for the Red Arm y seeking to master techniques and practices that had been demonstrated on a m uch wider scale in the First World War. Part o f the thinking behind the decision to introduce chemical weapons to the Tambov conflict concerned the psychological impact o f such weapons, but an added fac­ tor was the commitment o f senior commanders, such as Tukhachevskii, to the po­ tential that these weapons represented for the Soviet armed forces.149Not only did senior Red A rm y commanders share an enthusiasm for chemical weapons, but they also showed a highly selective sensitivity to the dubious ethics o f employing such weapons, particularly against one’s own people.150 The announcem ent o f the intention to introduce chemical weapons came on 12 June 1921, in an “operationally secret” order signed by Tukhachevskii and his chief o f staff, N. E. Kakurin. Like Tukhachevskii, Kakurin was a veteran o f the First W orld War with com mand experience. Their familiarity with poisonous gas was quite possibly intimate, given that the Russian A rm y suffered more than any other belligerent from the effects o f chlorine and mustard gas.151 The 12 June


Facets o f “Sovietizatiori

order explained that the remaining rebel groups were now effectively isolated from the villages and from the partisan population by the measures undertaken since Tukhachevskiis arrival in Tambov. But with the longer-term problem o f rounding up the remaining rebel groups from dangerous and difficult terrain, Tukhachevskii and Kakurin announced that they w ould distribute poison gas canisters and artillery shells to field commanders in each m ilitary sector to place rebel strongholds under a cloud o f “asphyxiating gas” that would “kill all who hide within.” 152 Despite the measured and confident tone o f the 12 June order, the decision to introduce chemical weapons into the conflict in Tam bov was an acknowledg­ m ent o f failure. At the 9 June m eeting o f the Plenipotentiary Com mission, Tukhachevskii led with a statement recognizing his failure to meet the one-m onth deadline he had been given by his political superiors in Moscow, and which he him self had stated was to begin on 6 May, when he felt he had established him ­ self and his staff in their headquarters outside the provincial capital.153After hear­ ing o f the difficulties experienced by local commanders in the m ilitary sectors in bringing Order no. 130 to fruition and in setting up institutions deemed essen­ tial



occupation strategy outlined by Tukhachevskii, at the 9 June meeting the com ­ mission agreed to intensify efforts at subduing the rural population. Am ong the measures accepted was the use o f gas against rebel groups in forested areas.154 Briefed on Tukhachevskii’s 12 June order on the use o f gas, at their 20 June meeting the Antibanditry Com m ission in M oscow counseled restraint, advising commanders in Tam bov to use gas only when success was assured and the ap­ propriate technical expertise was available. W ith official approval secured, Glavkom inform ed Tukhachevskii that five teams o f chemical specialists would be transferred to Tambov, and that they would transport supplies o f E-56 chlo­ rine gas in sufficient quantity for use in the province against the rebels. The chief o f the artillery inspectorate in Orel M ilitary Sector headquarters received orders that same day to begin assembling teams o f specialists for operations in Tambov. 155

A 1 July 1921 report written by the chemicals specialist, V. Pus’kov, to the ar­ tillery commander in Tam bov confirms the arrival in the area o f 250 canisters o f chlorine gas.156 By this time, commanders attached to the cadet force in the Sixth M ilitary Sector had received instructions on the use o f chemical weapons, speci­ fically the firing o f artillery shells armed with poisonous gas rounds. The artillery inspector in Tambov, S. Kasinov, stipulated that shells should be used as a deliv­

Facets o f “Sovietization”


ery system only when conditions made the release o f gas from canisters im pos­ sible, such as when the wind was too weak to carry the gas to the desired target, or when the target was in an inaccessible area, such as deep gullies. Likewise, the instructions warned against the use o f artillery shells when the w ind was too strong and w ould disperse the gas too quickly, or if the target was located in swamp or marshland (as was the case in the Sixth M ilitary Sector), where the ground was too soft and a fired shell would likely sink below the surface. C ool con­ ditions were also optimal for the use o f such chemical rounds, which were less pre­ dictable in hot temperatures. As the summers in Central Russia were exceptionally warm, with temperatures regularly topping thirty and occasionally thirty-five de­ grees Celsius, this meant that night was the best time for using poisonous gas.157 Instructions argued against using chemical weapons as a means o f flushing out rebels, for while they w ould be driven out by gases that were irritants, they would be m ore likely to escape capture under cover o f darkness. For this reason, lethal chemicals, such as the green chlorine gas, were more likely to be used at night, al­ lowing Red Arm y soldiers to enter a rebel stronghold such as in a forest with a de­ gree o f confidence that only corpses would be left behind. At any rate, this was the theory behind the use o f such weapons in a conflict such as the one in Tambov. Despite these detailed instructions and the extensive supply o f chlorine gas and specialist personnel, it remains difficult to assess the degree to which poisonous gas was used in Tambov in the summer o f 1921. There are very few references to its use and no detailed reports on the effectiveness o f chemical weapons in the fight against the rebels. There are no records o f chlorine gas canisters being opened upwind o f forest strongholds, enveloping the rebel fighters in a cloud like the one Tukhachevskii warned o f in his 12 June order. There are records o f indi­ vidual Red A rm y units firing artillery shells or throwing grenades that contained chemical rounds. In two instances, both in the Sixth M ilitary Sector, Red Arm y cadet artillery groups recorded the use o f such weapons. One took place near the village o f Kipets (near Karai-Saltykovo), where some fifty-nine chemical-filled artillery shells were fired at an island in a lake only one and a half versts from the village.158 The island was no doubt a hideout for local rebels, and the chemical weapons were used in com bination with conventional artillery rounds. But be­ cause the artillery groups were not involved in the m opping-up operations, there was no specific m ention o f this in the field diary, let alone a report o f the effec­ tiveness o f these chemical shells. In another incident, the field journal o f the ar­ tillery division in the Sixth M ilitary Sector notes that 47 chemical-filled shells were fired in com bination with over 220 other conventional shells in an incident


Facets o f “Sovietizatiori

(no location is given) on 13 July. Once more, there is no specific m ention o f the effectiveness o f the chemical shells, but it is unlikely that the gas had m uch im ­ pact, for the concentration o f fire was quite low, and thus the concentration o f the gas charges would have been low as well.159 The other side o f the coin was, o f course, the propaganda value that such weapons represented. W hile Tukhachevskiis 12 June order was classified as se­ cret, political and m ilitary officials wasted no time in publicizing the threat in order to press rebels to surrender. Even before the use o f poisonous gas had gained sanction from Moscow, the Plenipotentiary Com m ission released an ap­ peal to insurgents that warned: “If you hide in the forests, we will smoke you out. The Plenipotentiary Com m ission has decided to use poisonous gas to smoke bandits out o f the forests.” 160 M ilitary and political commissars in the Fourth







(Kozlov) issued their own Order no. 5, which repeated many o f the ultimatums and threats relating to the consequences o f continued resistance and defiance by villagers and active rebels alike, only this order concluded with the explicit threat that “ PO ISO N O U S G AS” would be used against those bandits who continued to hide in the forests.161 Possibly the first published reference to the use o f such weapons by the Red A rm y in the Russian civil war, by V. Mokarev, who was a re­ gional chief in the Sixth M ilitary Sector in Tambov in 1921, questions the actual m ilitary effectiveness o f chemical artillery rounds, but M okarev is less doubtful about the overall value o f such weapons. In describing the operations o f one cadet artillery group near the village o f Parevka, Mokarev writes: “Regrettably, the cadets as well as the other m ilitary units in the area were not equipped with chemical rounds, the use o f which w ould likely have produced much more favourable re­ sults, even if only as concerns morale.” 162 W hat is unclear from M okarevs words is whose morale he means, that o f the rebels or o f the Red Arm y soldiers? The answer is very likely to be both. Chlorine gas was seen as both a threat and as a battlefield weapon. For the rebels still holed up in the forests and other hideouts, the sight o f a gas charge from an artillery shell would certainly have been frightening, but the Red Arm y was unlikely to have ever built up a lethal concentration o f gas. The fear o f gas would have been high, both for those who had known chlorine, phosgene, and mustard gases in W orld War I, and for those who had not served in the Russian imperial army but had only heard o f such episodes. But for the Red A rm y soldiers charged with rounding up the remaining bandits in Tambov Province in 1921, the prospect o f entering a dark forest or other overgrown area in which enemies waited in am ­ bush was similarly terrifying. W hile conventional artillery w ould have “softened

Facets o f “Sovietization”


up” a target as well as chemical shells, something recognized by British com mand­ ers following World War I, the faith in chemical weapons could very well have been as inflated for the soldiers as it was for their commander, General Tukhachevskii.163 W hile chemical weapons featured more in the thoughts o f commanders than in the fields and forests, the forest clearance operations continued into the au­ tum n and winter o f 1921, although on a diminishing scale as greater numbers o f rebels surrendered under the pressure o f the Red A rm y presence and with the desperation that came with basic exposure as the seasons changed. Red Arm y force levels, however, remained largely constant, and the assignment o f the cadet force in the Sixth M ilitary Sector was extended until the end o f 1921.164Although antibanditry operations continued until the end o f the year, the occupation o f Tambov came to be characterized not by com bat missions and forest clearances but by the daily interaction between the Red Arm y forces garrisoned in the coun­ tryside and the village com munities they were meant to protect. This was a pe­ culiar occupation o f Russians b y Russians (for the m ost part); indeed, it was largely an occupation o f Russian peasants by Russian peasants in uniform. The essential foundations for trust were already there, although the practical diffi­ culties o f sustaining a large conscript army in the province did much to test those foundations and compromise the transition back to norm ality for the villages o f Tambov Province.




Forest clearance operations were less com m on in other sectors o f the occupation o f Tam bov Province, both because there were fewer concentrations o f former rebels outside o f this core region o f the defeated insurgency and because the ter­ rain elsewhere was m arginally m ore accessible and open. Active operations against identifiable rebel groups largely relied upon the motorized units that had proven so effective in early June during the decisive pursuit o f the Second Parti­ san Army, and Red A rm y cavalry numbers remained quite small relative to in­ fantry for the occupation as a w hole.165 As summer gave way to autum n in 1921, the main challenges that confronted the vast m ajority o f Red Arm y servicemen assigned to garrisons in Tam bov during the occupation concerned their own maintenance, given the shortage o f basic provisions and the struggle with bore­ dom. The growth in the Red A rm y presence in Tam bov had produced misgivings among local officials from the early months o f 1921, and the continued expansion


Facets o f “Sovietizatiori

o f the occupation in the summer prompted the Plenipotentiary Com m ission to lobby M oscow to recognize Tambov as a “grain-deficit” or “hungry” province and for central m ilitary and state authorities to assume responsibility for maintain­ ing the arm y Antonov-Ovseenko reported that the province could sim ply not sustain a military presence o f “ 130,000 eaters,” a figure that no doubt included the permanent garrison population o f Tambov as well as forces assigned to the province since the start o f the year.166Balancing a concern with reviving the local econom y and avoiding starvation in the com ing winter with the need to estab­ lish political stability and security, Antonov- Ovseenko’s recommendations were largely ineffective in forcing a resolution to the arm y s supply crisis. W hile the Red Arm y had been allowed to provision the occupying forces by requisitions in Tambov, within the territory o f the conflict, this did not sanction autonom ous requisitioning, or “self-provisioning,” by individual army units. The Tam bov m ilitary com m and had arranged for food brigades to operate in con­ junction with the provincial Food Commissariat, but these official channels were unable to satisfy the needs o f the dozens o f garrisons and m obile units deployed in the southern half o f Tambov, giving rise to a plague o f “self-provisioning” in the summer o f 1921 that became the norm among all Red Arm y forces in the province. Just as local officials had feared, such conduct only underm ined the trust and faith o f village communities in the occupation forces. Com manders in the field regularly reported instances o f self-provisioning and what they did not hesitate to identify as “looting,” detailing the damage being done to peasant-state rela­ tions in the hope that improvements w ould be made to the arm y supply appara­ tus.167 Similarly, commanders that reported healthy relations with local village communities attributed their successes to adequate supply lines that permitted interaction between soldiers and villagers that would win hearts and minds rather than filling stomachs.168 The image o f the occupying authorities was damaged by the sight o f Red Arm y units begging for handouts from rural households, as was the case with one in­ fantry group arrived from neighboring Penza Province, but the greater problem was indiscipline among soldiers, which was often manifested more broadly than mere looting.169 H ungry and bored soldiers could take out their frustrations by firing live rounds into villages to scare locals, just as they fired their rifles into the air to protest a reduction or delay in rations.170 Com m unist Party agitators at­ tached to military units felt powerless to influence the conduct o f Red Arm y sol­ diers who were hungry, and incidents o f looting were rife in even the elite brigades and divisions assigned to the antibanditry front in Tambov.171 Indeed, the mobile pursuit forces were frequently the worst offenders in this regard, as it was far more

Facets o f “Sovietization ”


difficult to maintain supply lines to autonom ous m otorized and cavalry groups, and they generally relied on local resources for sustenance, especially foods that could be consumed immediately, such as eggs and dairy products.172 The Plenipotentiary Com m ission sought to control self-provisioning by Red A rm y forces by drawing in the participation o f revolutionary committees, which were instructed to liaise with local m ilitary commanders and provide inform a­ tion regarding available food resources and arrange for collections.173Yet, as with the village and volost soviets before them, revkoms were always suspected o f a narrow parochialism if they sought to limit the demands placed upon local com ­ munities, and the revkoms were frequently bypassed as m ilitary commanders sought to satisfy the needs o f their soldiers. Countless instances o f undocumented confiscation occurred under the authority o f Order no. 130, in some cases even leading to hostage taking and public executions in villages where hungry Red Arm y units had only been searching for food.174 It is m ainly owing to the per­ sistent


crisis that affected the Red Arm y that the true cost o f orders no. 130 and 171 will never be known. However, within the occupation zone, the presence o f Red Arm y garrisons was not entirely a force for antagonism. M ilitary units were regularly called upon to participate in agricultural work, a development in the sum m er o f 1921 that was viewed as both a welfare measure that could strengthen public confidence in the Soviet state and Red Army, as well as providing a necessary outlet o f activity for the thousands o f soldiers assigned to the south o f the province. Groups o f ser­ vicemen were assigned to assist in field work as a means o f helping the households o f Red A rm y soldiers w ho were away on assignment or were dead or disabled. Similarly, occupying garrisons were m obilized to assist loyal villages and even to ensure that the fields left unattended by bandit households held in the camps were utilized as effectively as possible.175 Along with the subbotniki— C om m u ­ nist Party members and townspeople m obilized to w ork one day per week or m onth for the “public good”— the Red Arm y’s involvement in agricultural field w ork could at times be significant, such as with the repair and provision o f tools, and especially the provision o f draft animals that were in such desperately short supply at the end o f the civil war and following the rebellion.176 The involvement o f the Red Arm y in local agricultural work continued until the harvest, and while such assistance brought the occupying forces into regular and practical contact with village communities, a measure o f disquiet lingered among those who sus­ pected that this assistance was only a Trojan horse for a return o f the requisition­ ing squads. Having Red Arm y soldiers involved in working the fields would make


Facets o f “Sovietizatiori

it harder for peasant farmers to underestimate harvest yields and conceal distant fields from tax collectors o f the Food Commissariat, and it was even feared that the arm y would demand a portion o f the harvest in return for their beneficence.177 The experience o f occupation was not dominated by limited acts o f welfare as­ sistance, however. O nly during the harvest period from August to October was the interaction between village com m unities and garrisoned soldiers centered on agricultural work. W hile some Red Arm y commanders did seek to insulate their soldiers from local communities as a means o f focusing on security matters as well as preserving discipline, for the m ajority o f village communities in the south­ ern half o f the province the occupation was characterized by quotidian economic and social interaction with soldiers.178 For example, Red A rm y soldiers became the energizing force in the revival o f market activity in the province following the partial decriminalization o f private trade in March 1921. This was just as true for the markets in the large garrison towns as it was for the smaller market vil­ lages in the countryside, where Red Arm y soldiers eagerly sold and traded m ili­ tary-issue equipm ent and even their rations. As noted earlier, property confiscated by Red Arm y units during “occupation operations” frequently found its way onto local markets, and for all the unease surrounding “ speculation” voiced b y local state and party officials, who were slowly adjusting to the new possibilities under the NEP, the realization that Red Arm y men were at the heart o f this activity tempered the zeal for a crackdown on markets in Tambov Province in 1921.179 The sheer boredom that m ost units had to cope with, though, sometimes dominated the concerns o f average soldiers, as well as those o f the political com ­ missars and Com m unist Party agitators attached to the garrisons. The need to provide outlets for soldiers, whether by stocking libraries, organizing team sports, or scheduling musical and theater events, became more vital in the final stages o f the conflict, when less manpower was required for operations against rebel groups and the vast m ajority o f soldiers stationed in Tambov were intended to provide a visible and reassuring presence within the zone o f occupation.180Even before the occupation achieved its peak in M ay and June 1921, Red A rm y servicemen were independently organizing underground social clubs that provided an opportu­ nity to drink, play music, and— most im portant— meet local girls.181 In a sense, the stationing o f a Red Arm y garrison had parallels with the arrival o f a Partisan A rm y unit, which sometimes occasioned long parties that involved entire com ­ munities, particularly young single wom en.182While the carnival atmosphere may not have been the same, such social events became im portant for Red A rm y sol­ diers in the countryside and could acquire im portance for local households, as

Facets o f “Sovietization”


well. Women who had had relationships with known rebels could partially remove themselves from suspicion and possible persecution if they socialized or struck up relations with occupying soldiers.183The same was true for the families o f for­ mer STK members. The only documentation relating to such cases involves those who were discovered, but it stands to reason that many villagers and rural house­ holds would have found a degree o f security from investigation and persecution by cultivating personal relationships with occupying soldiers and state officials.184 The social interactions between occupying soldiers and village communities were not necessarily determined b y considerations o f self-protection. But in a re­ gion where the m ultiple levels o f participation in the insurgency meant that the vast m ajority o f households were compromised to some degree by the rebellion, relations with occupying authorities could never be entirely divorced from such concerns. As such, even the starry-eyed romances that sprung up between Red Arm y soldiers and village girls— such as the first love o f the future Soviet children's author, Arkadii Gaidar, who was stationed near Morshansk during the summer o f 1921— could not be entirely innocent o f the charged political context created by the occupation and the facilitated transition to norm ality in the province.185 Regardless o f the motivations— conscious or unconscious— that lurked behind such relationships, they became a factor in that transition, albeit a complicated one. Instances o f rape by Red Arm y soldiers were not uncom m on and, while the data are only suggestive, several m ilitary units reported rises in venereal disease among troops during the occupation in the summer and autum n o f 1921.186 But the ease with which most village communities adjusted to the presence o f Red Arm y garrisons, even amid terrible material conditions and shortages, is testa­ m ent to the unusual nature o f the occupation o f Tambov. Although senior com ­ manders sought to underscore the seriousness o f the operation by likening it to the occupation o f enemy territory, there were no defining national or ethnic dis­ tinctions that could form the basis for strict social division between occupying forces and rural com m unities.187 The presence o f large Red Arm y units in the province underscored the extraordinary nature o f the conflict and the stakes in­ volved, but the fact that these were predom inantly Russian peasants in uniform providing security and helping to restore political stability facilitated the dem o­ bilization o f the resistance to the Soviet state in the Tambov countryside by blur­ ring the concepts o f “civil-m ilitary relations” and “fraternization” that typically accompany foreign occupation.

T he occupation of southern Tambov Province during the summer o f 1921 was characterized by conditions that encouraged a return to norm ality while pre-


y the end of

the summer o f 1921, most o f the important figures in the

Partisan Army and STK were either dead or in Cheka prisons. Tokmakov, Boguslavskii, Karas’, Selianskii, and other Partisan Army commanders had been killed in battle. “Bat’ko” Pluzhnikov and his son, Dmitrii, had been found dead soon after the hub of the STK organization was discovered by the Red Army and Cheka in Kamenka, and a wave of arrests ensued. The political wing of the move­ ment had been decapitated just as the Red Army was breaking up the main forces of the Partisan Army. The STK had ceased to function in any meaningful way by July 1921, and like the surviving rebel groups holed up in the forests and swamps, those who had participated in the administration o f the partisan countryside through the network o f village and volost STKs, were principally concerned with escaping discovery and returning to their everyday lives once the revolutionary committees began their own steady and systematic investigations. In early 1921, following the organization of the VTsIK Antibanditry Commis­ sion in Moscow, as well as the overhaul of the provincial Cheka organization Tam­ bov by Antonov-Ovseenko and the new Cheka chief, M. D. Antonov, the VChK


The End o f an Era


chairman (and member o f the Antibanditry Com m ission), Felix Dzerzhinskii, arranged for provincial Cheka organizations in the central agricultural region to collaborate on the investigation o f the wider rebel network and its ties with antiSoviet political parties and groups.1 While few sustained and concrete ties between the rebels and opposition groups were established, pooling the efforts o f Cheka agents across the wider region— including Tambov, Voronezh, Penza, Orel, and the Don territory— resulted in more organized counterintelligence operations and the arrangement o f regular efforts to infiltrate the Partisan Arm y in Tambov. While the provincial Cheka had successfully broken up the organizational core o f the PSR and LSR parties in Tambov itself, arresting dozens o f senior PSR members (including Aleksandr Antonov’s brother-in-law, Aleksandr Bogoliubskii), there had been few efforts if any to penetrate the rebel camp in 1921, and operations one m ight classify as counterespionage were few during the early months o f the new year, when the provincial administration in Tambov was afflicted by so much disorganization and division.2 Despite the relative coherence o f the rebel organization and the interactions between the Partisan Arm y and the STK network, the Cheka in Tambov was never­ theless able to infiltrate both organizations with some regularity in the summer o f 1921, mainly capitalizing on the rebel movement s strong desire to forge con­ tacts with anti-Soviet movements and groups in other parts o f the former Russ­ ian Empire. W hile the inform ation garnered from the infiltration o f the rebel camp by Cheka agents rarely proved o f immediate value to the operations o f the Red Arm y in Tambov, these activities did manage to disrupt the rapidly frag­ menting organization o f the rebel movement and undermined the fragile con­ fidence o f the rebel soldiers and leadership. O n at least two occasions, undercover agents managed to lure senior rebel leaders to M oscow and into the hands o f








Included in this number were Ivan Ishin and Pavel Ektov, the former possibly the most visible propagandist under Antonov both before and during the rebellion, and the latter a former cooperative worker who established him self as a senior figure attached to Partisan Arm y headquarters. These two were drawn to M oscow by Cheka agents posing as PSR members seeking to coordinate armed opposition movements by arranging a summit o f anti-Soviet political and rebel leaders in Moscow. W hile at first glance, the story o f such a summit in the Soviet capital ap­ pears preposterous, especially insofar as it formed the basis o f a Cheka counter­ espionage operation. However, the rebels did have regular, if unsystematic, contact with individuals in Moscow who were attached to the PSR or were sympathetic to the anti-Soviet cause, and control over opposition political activity in the city was


The End o f an Era

far from comprehensive.4 Still, the story o f a planned gathering o f anti-Soviet forces resonated with the worldview o f rebel leaders in Tambov, who always sought to contextualize their own activities in relation to similar rebellions and oppo­ nents o f the Com munist Party and who frequently channelled their energies ac­ cordingly. Most important, such a story also fed their hopes o f eventual success in toppling the Soviet government precisely when their own movement was in such dramatic decline.5 Each success for the Cheka fed into the next such operation. W hile Ishin, as a long-standing opponent o f the Soviet regime who had severed all ties with his family, was most likely shot quickly after his capture and interrogation in Moscow, Ektov turned informer for the Cheka after his family was taken hostage by state agents.6 He even agreed to cooperate in the most famous and elaborate under­ cover operation carried out by the Red Arm y during the final months o f the in­ surgency: he returned to Tambov and escorted the men o f Kotovskii’s Red Arm y cavalry brigade, posing as Don Cossacks who had come to join forces with the Partisan Army, into the forests o f Tambov uezd to ambush one o f the few remain­ ing Partisan Arm y regiments. The story o f Kotovskii’s destruction o f the rebel unit led by Ivan M atiukhin quickly entered into the folklore o f the Red Arm y and the Cheka, appearing several times in memoirs, children’s fiction, and on film and stage.7 Yet just as in the months before the outbreak o f the insurgency in the autumn o f 1920, the Red Arm y and Cheka still found it (in the words o f B. A. Vasil’ev) “ fiendishly difficult” to pin down and capture Aleksandr Antonov himself, as well as his younger brother, Dmitrii. In the late summer o f 1921, following the defeat o f the Second Partisan Arm y and the discovery o f Antonov’s alleged “final order” for rebels to suspend armed activities until the occupation o f southern Tambov ended, both organizations had launched operations in response to intelligence re­ garding Antonov’s location, but none had succeeded in securing his capture or confirmation o f his death.8 The provincial administration had been hasty in the past to announce the death o f rebel leaders, often on the basis o f unconfirmed in­ telligence and unreliable statements by captured Partisan Arm y soldiers, and it was feared that as long as Antonov continued to be at large, the capacity for a re­ vival o f hostilities in the province would remain.9 Quite early in the conflict, in October 1920, the Cheka in Tambov had sought to trap Antonov by using his wife, Sofiia, to lure the rebel leader into their hands. But Antonov had long since cut any close ties with his wife, having gone into hid­ ing in Kirsanov uezd less than a year after they were wed, and the effort to capture Antonov ended in disappointment; nevertheless, the Cheka honored their prom ­

The End o f an Era


ise to release Sofiia if she cooperated with state officials in the plot.10 She was ar­ rested a second time in late March 1921, soon after the reorganization o f the Tam­ bov Cheka organization, and sent to Moscow, where she joined her brother, Aleksandr, in prison. But no further efforts were made by the Cheka to utilize Sofiia Bogoliubskaia in efforts to capture Antonov, nor were Antonov’s two sisters arrested for this purpose, even though both had been detained during earlier investiga­ tions regarding Aleksandr and Dm itrii before the outbreak o f the rebellion in 1920. W hile Antonov had been the main target o f the Cheka operations during the summer o f 1921, in each case, agents had to settle for marginally lesser game, as Antonov him self proved elusive. The failure to locate and capture Antonov fu­ eled the belief in Cheka circles that Antonov had withdrawn from participation following the head wound he sustained in early June 1921, or even that he had be­ come the victim o f a schism in the Partisan Arm y leadership, leaving him isolated and excluded from the rebel organization.11 In early October 1921, the Plenipotentiary Com m ission in Tambov was dis­ solved, and despite the continued presence o f Red Arm y troops in the southern half o f the province and the continued functioning o f the sector military com ­ mands that formed the basis o f the occupation system, the counterinsurgency campaign was rapidly drawing to a close. Scouting reports at the beginning o f October placed the number o f active rebel groups in the six military sectors at no more than fifteen, comprising an estimated 363 “bandits.” 12 In the winter o f 1921-1922, the search for Antonov fell to the Tambov Cheka, and specifically to the A ntibanditry Departm ent o f the Crim inal Investigations Unit, headed by Mikhail I. Pokaliukhin. W hile Pokaliukhin was able to cultivate many contacts who had been close to Antonov and to the rebel leadership, particularly among those who had surrendered and taken amnesty in 1921, the flow o f information concerning the health and whereabouts o f Antonov and his brother had dried up by the end o f 1921, a state o f affairs that persisted for the first months o f 1922. It was entirely by luck that the Cheka, now known by the acronym GPU, was alerted in late M ay 1922 to the possible location o f the Antonovs when a pharma­ cist by the name o f Firsov, in the village o f Uvarovo in northeastern Borisoglebsk uezd, reported a visit to his pharmacy by a young wom an who requested a supply o f quinine expressly for the ailing Aleksandr Antonov, then in hiding in the woods near the small village o f Nizhnii Shibriai. Her willingness to surrender such in­ formation to a stranger is explained by the fact that medicines such as quinine were in short supply and she evidently knew the pharmacist had once been a member o f the PSR and personally knew Aleksandr Antonov. She was likely sent to Firsov on Antonov’s instruction in hopes that he would help him cope with the


The End o f an Era

malaria he had contracted after long months in the mosquito-infested forests and swamps o f southeastern Tambov. After supplying the needed medicine, however, Firsov alerted the Tambov GPU and Pokaliukhin, who quickly organized surveil­ lance o f the village. It transpired that the Antonovs had managed to cultivate a limited number o f safe contacts in the village o f Nizhnii Shibriai and had been in hiding in the area since at least Easter 1922. W hile they spent much o f their time in the neighboring forest— a place they had previously used as a hiding place long before the out­ break o f the insurgency13— in the evening they frequented the house o f thirtyfive-year-old Natalia Ivanovna Katasonova, a wom an o f lim ited means whose husband had died and whose brother was a former rebel, serving a term in a nearby camp. She had one boarder, the local schoolmistress, Sofiia Gavrilova Solov’eva, the young wom an who had visited the pharmacist for quinine. Solov’eva had also run other errands for the Antonovs, such as traveling to the provincial capital to acquire newspapers. In fact, both women were quite close to the Antonovs, with Aleksandr having an intimate relationship with Katasonova, and the twenty-one-year-old Solov’eva allegedly taken with Dm itrii. The Antonovs’ other main contact in the village was Katasonova’s neighbor, the local miller, Vasilii Vladim irovich Ivanov, who provided the Antonovs with food and, in maintaining regular contact with them, also conveyed information from other close associates in the region. There were others who knew o f the presence o f the Antonovs near Nizhnii Shibriai and who safeguarded this secret, such as the local forestry official, Gerasim Ivanovich Lomakin, but none had such regular and close contact with the former partisans as the miller, the schoolmistress, and the widow. The end for the Antonovs came on the evening o f 24 June 1922. Taking a team o f Cheka colleagues and trusted informants who had previously known and worked with Antonov in the Partisan Army, Pokaliukhin approached Katasonova’s house after agents confirmed that the Antonovs were inside and placed his men around the perimeter o f the four-room wooden home. Katasonova herself was found in the small adjoining barn after Pokaliukhin’s knock on the locked door was unanswered. W hen asked who was in her house, she admitted that two armed men— unknown to her— were inside. Asked to tell the men to come out peacefully, she refused, fear­ ing they would kill her.14 Pokaliukhin approached the door and knocked a second time, and when the door began to open slightly, he was greeted by pistol shots. The shoot-out that ensued between the Antonov brothers and the nine-man team assembled by Pokaliukhin lasted for over an hour without either side suffer­ ing casualties. Five o f the eight men working with Pokaliukhin were former Parti­ san A rm y rebels, including Iakov Vasil’evich Sanfirov, who had been the

The End o f an Era


commander o f the “Special Regiment” that accompanied Antonov’s Partisan Army headquarters.15 They were the only ones who knew what Aleksandr A ntonov looked like, although Pokaliukhin claimed to have a vague m em ory o f Antonov from his time as chief o f the Kirsanov uezd militia.16According to one memoirist, the brothers quickly learned that they were under fire by their erstwhile comrades and pleaded for them to show some loyalty. Instead, one threw a grenade at the house that started a fire. The flames quickly reached the roof, and it was only a matter o f time before the Antonovs were forced out by the smoke. By this time, vir­ tually the entire village o f Nizhnii Shibriai had come out and assembled at a safe distance to watch the spectacle. The m om ent the Antonovs leapt out o f the windows o f Katasonovas burning home, their assailants were temporarily thrown into a panic, but without a clear plan o f escape, Aleksandr and Dm itrii ran aimlessly through the crossfire before reaching the street. By this time, Pokaliukhin and his men had composed them ­ selves and two bullets fired from their pistols hit the brothers, with Dm itrii su­ ffering the most serious wound, leaving him scarcely able to move. They continued their flight, however, onto the property o f the miller, evidently hoping to reach the forest’s edge, but their wounds brought them to a halt in Ivanov’s garden, where they were discovered by their one-time trusted comrade, Iakov Sanfirov, who shot them. Pokaliukhin and his men hesitated before approaching the bodies, but after some ten minutes, they were reassured that the two former partisan leaders were finally dead. Pokaliukhin recalled in his memoir o f the event that the curious villagers who had gathered to investigate the shooting and smoke were all supportive o f the gov­ ernment agents once they learned that Antonov was inside the house. W hen the bodies o f the Antonov brothers began their journey back to Tambov, to be buried on the grounds o f the seventeenth-century Kazan Monastery, now the headquar­ ters o f the GPU, residents o f the villages they passed along the way would gather along the streets and cheer the deaths o f the former rebel leader and his brother. Still, despite such reassuring expressions o f popular support for the Soviet gov­ ernment, the provincial administration and Com munist Party in Tambov never­ theless arranged for photographs o f the lifeless bodies o f Aleksandr and Dm itrii to be published in the local press, one o f the first times photographs appeared in the newspapers o f Tambov Province. The obvious intention was to reach as wide as audience as possible with evidence o f the death o f the famous bandits, sup­ pressing any lingering hope that the former leader o f the Partisan Arm y was still alive and capable o f a return. Whatever plan the Antonovs may have had about resuming their campaign o f


The End o f an Era

The Antonov brothers following the shoot-out with Cheka agents, 22 June 1922. This image was distributed widely in Tambov province to confirm the deaths of the former rebel lead­ ers. Photograph courtesy o f the Tambovskii Kraevedcheskii Muzei

resistance to the Soviet state is impossible to determine, but such an event would have been highly unlikely, judging from reports o f the popular reaction to the news of their deaths. While the rebellion had temporarily inspired a certain hope that the Soviet government could be overwhelmed by the vast yet disjointed wave of popular rebellion and protest throughout the former Russian Empire at the end of the civil war, suppression o f the movement in Tambov had been achieved at tremendous human and material cost to the village communities of the province. The weight of the occupation o f southern Tambov was felt in virtually every vil­ lage and town of the region, for even households and families that had no signi­ ficant connection with the insurgents were forced to make sacrifices to support the thousands of Red Army troops assigned to the province in 1921. As a member of the provincial soviet executive committee, G. Z. Zanegin, explained at the Eighth Congress of Soviets in Tambov in early December 1921: If you consider that the entire phenomenon o f banditry in Tambov has had a singularly destructive character, then we on the soviet executive committee must also include in this the role played by the cadre o f Red Army units that flooded Tambov Province. Leaving to one side the anarchical activities in which some of these units indulged during individual clashes with bandits in the villages, activities that resulted in colossal damage for the peasants and the local authorities, the huge

The End o f an Era


wave of military forces that came into the province had a generally destructive character. Each town, village, and hamlet can support only a limited number of people. Tambov and other towns were so overwhelmed by military personnel that one could barely even breathe, and there was absolutely no possibility that they could be adequately housed, and as a result we now find extensive damage every­ where. Tambov suffered much less as a consequence of Mamontov’s raid [in 1919] than it has as a result of the military occupation of the past year.17

Zanegin had in mind the constraints on the food supply and the spread o f infec­ tious diseases as much as the broken windows and toppled street lamps left behind by the Red Arm y in the provincial capital.18 In fact, it was the burden o f the m il­ itary occupation o f the province on all public and private resources that was such a matter o f controversy at the Eighth Congress, an occasion that was intended to forge a measure o f political unity in the wake o f the insurgency’s defeat, but which proved to be as divisive and ill-tempered as its predecessor earlier in the year. The first tax collection campaign under the NEP had been only a very quali­ fied success, as the ongoing counterinsurgency operations throughout the sum ­ mer and autumn complicated the organizational efforts o f the Food Commissariat as much as the Red Arm y presence compromised the relations with village com ­ munities that the same commissariat was so desperate to repair.19While the tax in kind had initially captured the imagination o f village producers, this quickly turned to anxiety as the harvest approached and so much about the functioning o f the new system remained unclear. Part o f this was attributable to the under­ standable difficulty o f being required to completely alter the system, as well as the entire “ethic,” o f food procurement, but material shortages in the countryside and uncertainties regarding present and future harvests further complicated the tran­ sition to the tax in kind, as the commissariat was flooded with appeals from indi­ vidual villages in response to the first publication o f tax assessments in May 1921. Commissariat officials were under no illusions regarding their ability to conduct reliable assessments o f the upcoming harvest yields, and the wave o f angry ap­ peals from individuals and com munities only prom pted them to revert to the same hard-line methods they had been accustomed to using in the face o f local ap­ peals regarding unfair procurement targets under the razverstka.20 In practice, however, when the tax campaign began in the autumn, commis­ sariat agents proved much more flexible in their approach to collection, and this combined with an acknowledged lack o f solid information concerning the harvest to generate a high degree o f uncertainty within the Commissariat regarding the progress o f the collection campaign.21 Indeed, the Food Commissariat and Sov-


The End o f an Era

narkom in Moscow also proved flexible to a certain degree, for despite demands by central officials that the tax burdens for individual provinces be met in foil, they were willing to make allowances for provinces burdened by major m ilitary operations that had disrupted preparations for the tax campaign.22 This was sensi­ ble, as it quickly became clear that the uezds that had suffered during the rebellion and under the burden o f the Red Arm y occupation were unlikely to make signi­ ficant contributions to the 1921 campaign. This was particularly true o f Kirsanov and Borisoglebsk, where the estimated decline in sown acreage was the most dra­ matic.23As such, the final tax levied on cereal grains for the province was less than half o f the razverstka set for 1920-1921, although it was roughly on a par with the revised target authorized by the Food Commisarist in January 1921.24 By the end o f 1921, the commissariat in Tambov had managed to collect nearly two-thirds o f the tax on cereals, and tax revenues on other products, such as potatoes, climbed even higher after collection agents were authorized to accept “equivalent” prod­ ucts from producers in the place o f scarce cereal grains.25 That Kirsanov and Borisoglebsk uezds contributed relatively little to the first tax campaign did not mean that these areas had escaped material hardship. In fact, these were the two areas where food supply concerns and fears o f hunger and starvation generated the most volatility in the winter o f 1921. Although the revo­ lutionary committees had been withdrawn from much o f the former territory o f the insurgency, replaced by newly elected village and volost soviets and reports were encouraging regarding the reception o f the tax in kind and more generally regarding popular attitudes toward the Soviet government, the problem o f ban­ ditry persisted in these uezds through the end o f the year.26 Much o f this involved former rebel outlaws who raided villages for food and supplies. But grain short­ ages were so severe that some village self-defense militias attempted to conduct forced food requisitions in other villages; in one case, a militia had to be arrested and disarmed by a nearby Cheka battalion, but only after an extended firefight that resulted in the death o f one militiaman and the wounding o f several others.27 Such episodes increased as the year drew to a close, but in early December 1921 the provincial government in Tambov remained convinced that the banditry problem could be still be managed by the local Cheka and militia, and that the Red Arm y would not need to return to restore civil order.28 That same month, however, officials in Kirsanov uezd were given a fresh re­ minder, if any was necessary, o f how rapidly low-level disturbances could trans­ form into all-consuming chaos. O nly a few weeks after complaining in reports about how village communities under the NEP were exclusively concerned with restoring the household economy, and thus indifferent to politics, the Communist

The End o f an Era


Party in Kirsanov was confronted with a round o f armed village uprisings that rapidly dismantled the newly restored network o f village and volost soviets, o c­ cupied railway stations, and destroyed valuable infrastructure. In the area around Inzhavino, the garrison force o f nearly 300 soldiers was overcome by an estimated 4,000 peasants bearing firearms and more “agricultural” weapons, and the entire personnel o f the Cheka station in Inzhavino was, to a man, killed by insurgents. Over forty Com m unist Party members lost their lives, and officials in the uezd town o f Kirsanov reacted much as they did in the autumn o f 1920, by withdraw­ ing all available armed forces and state agents in the countryside to the town it­ self and issuing urgent appeals to M oscow for m ilitary support. It seemed as if the worst fears regarding the Partisan Arm y and Antonov’s “last order” were being re­ alized, and the thousands o f former rebels who had been granted amnesty and released back to their native villages were responding to a single call to rise against the Soviet state once more. But the crisis, so spectacular in its appearance in the second half o f December, produced no slogans, no leaders, and no identifiable or­ ganization. The appearance o f Red Arm y troops in Kirsanov quickly extinguished the outburst o f rage that briefly consumed the uezd, although local officials in Kirsanov nevertheless felt compelled to justify their appeals to Moscow for armed assistance, no doubt sensitive to accusations o f panic that had tarnished them a year before.29 This violent episode had its roots, first and foremost, in the anxieties over the food supply. W hile the tax in kind had been unevenly organized and irregularly collected in Kirsanov, shortages were most acute in this area following the de­ struction and displacement brought by the insurgency and the burdens imposed during its suppression. The fear o f hunger and starvation were made more tangi­ ble by reports o f real famine in the neighboring Volga region, for which appeals were being issued and collection drives organized in order to relieve what was already a human catastrophe.30 The disturbances in Kirsanov were no doubt connected with the final push to meet the targets for grain procurement set for the 1921 tax campaign, but their severity is best understood against the backdrop o f popular anxiety regarding famine and the vulnerable self-confidence o f local party and state officials in a province that was only just emerging from a full year o f rebel­ lion and occupation.31 W hile the outburst o f violence in Kirsanov in December 1921 demonstrated the fragility o f state institutions and Soviet authority in the area, the episode also served to demonstrate just how far the region had become distanced from the re­ bellion that had dominated the political landscape for so m any months. There was no return o f Antonov on the strength o f popular anxiety and anger, nor were


The End o f an Era

there even rumors o f a revival o f the Partisan Arm y that could be invested with hopes for the future. Instead, those same hopes that rebel leaders had sought to promote alongside participation in the insurgency had given way to resentment o f the experience o f rebellion, an experience that had cost families and com m u­ nities so much, and a resentment that was frequently directed at former rebels who similarly sought to return to the lives they had led before the outbreak o f the civil war. Whereas popular grievances remained high while shortages and mate­ rial conditions were so oppressive, the brief outbreak o f violence in Kirsanov in De­ cember served to demonstrate just how im portant A ntonov and his co-conspirators had been in actively transforming disorder and violence into or­ ganized rebellion. The nature o f the violence in Decem ber also demonstrated just how rapidly village communities had moved to distance themselves from the experience o f the antonovshchina. If the m em ory o f Antonov and the insurgency was kept alive at all, it was the Soviet state that sought, in the short term, to provide reminders o f the partisan leader and his responsibility for the destruction that had been inflicted on the Tam­ bov countryside. The trial o f the Socialist Revolutionary Party (PSR), a drawnout process that began early in 1922, was accompanied by a nationwide propaganda campaign in which civilians were enlisted to participate in drafting condemnatory proclamations, encouraged to discuss the accusations against the PSR and its lead­ ership, and even to attend screenings o f the filmed proceedings o f the trial once it began.32The insurgency in Tambov, and the conspiracy that was attributed with its creation, comprised an im portant facet o f the case against the PSR, although the accusations concerning the direct involvement o f the PSR in the Partisan Arm y and STK were given greater prominence in the trial itself and in the coverage by the central press than they were in the accompanying campaign in Tambov Province.33 Instead, the coverage in Tambov principally concerned the damage and destruc­ tion caused by the rebellion, and any shortfalls in agricultural production and ap­ pearances o f hunger and material shortage were laid directly at the feet o f Antonov and his co-conspirators. W hile the prosecutors in M oscow branded A ntonov a “political illiterate” and sought to portray him as a tool o f the PSR Central C om ­ mittee, Communist Party agitators in Tambov worked on the assumption that the PSR— as an idea as much as an organization— continued to enjoy a certain meas­ ure o f authority and respect among the rural population, and the propaganda cam­ paign in the province that accompanied the trial became as much about Antonov as the personal em bodiment o f the rebellion and the destruction it brought to Tambov as it was about the PSR as a “counterrevolutionary” political party.34 It would be facile to claim that the propaganda campaign against Antonov and

The End o f an Era


the PSR in the first months o f 1922 helped convince the people o f Tambov that the former partisan leader was responsible for the hardships that so m any com m uni­ ties had endured and continued to suffer as they emerged from the civil war. In fact, Antonov, and the movement that he had led, had long since abdicated the role o f speaking for the grievances, as well as to the hopes, o f the beleaguered rural population. Am id the chaos, destruction, and deprivation that characterized the Soviet countryside in late 1921 and 1922, no person, party, or movement successfiilly spoke for those grievances, let alone articulated those hopes. The civil war pe­ riod o f risk, uncertainty, and possibility— when disparate political ideas, and even occasionally ideals, could be entertained and briefly inform individual and col­ lective identities— had come to a close for the villages o f Tambov, ushering in a pe­ riod o f desperate reconstruction and healing for so many families and communities. The Antonov rebellion had formed the final chapter in the history o f the revolu­ tion and civil war in Tambov Province, but any legacy o f the event was quickly lost as the occupation regime was wound down. The next few years saw the event consigned to history as communities sought to distance themselves from the ex­ perience and the m em ory o f their involvement. O nly when the peasantry was under assault once more at the end o f the decade did the name Antonov creep back into circulation, although even then the m em ory o f the rebellion did not provide a stable basis for the rallying o f resistance to the Soviet state during its chaotic efforts to push village households into a system o f collective farms.35 The story o f the antonovshchina is, perhaps inevitably, a tragic one, and it would be incorrect to place the name o f its leader, Aleksandr Antonov, in any imaginary pantheon o f popular rebels against the state whose names live on in m yth and folklore. Emelian Pugachev and Stenka Razin belonged to the long era o f serfdom and autocracy, an era that consumed both o f them, and Nester Makhno, while a contem porary o f Antonov, assumed a peculiar status as a symbol o f Ukrainian national identity rather than attaining a broader and lasting cultural resonance. Yet Antonov could boast no such legacy, and it was only with the fall o f the Soviet Union that certain groups struggled, without success, to recover the m em ory o f the rebellion and establish a place for the partisan leader in local and national cul­ ture. The Antonov movement, no less than the rebellions o f Pugachev and Razin, belonged to a particular era, but in the case o f Antonov, this era was the unusual and brief time o f revolution and civil war in Russia. The history o f the movement can teach us much about this particular era, about the anxieties and sense o f the possible that make revolutions and civil wars such chaotic and fascinating periods. But it was an era that ultimately came to an abrupt end even before Aleksandr Antonov fought his last, desperate battle.

NOTES Preface î. The first work in English was Oliver H. Radkey, The Unknown Civil War in Soviet Rus­ sia (Palo Alto, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1976). The first study o f the Antonov rebellion

examined the few prim ary source materials that existed in the West at the time. See Seth Singleton, “ The Tambov Revolt (1920-1921),” Slavic Review 25 (1966). 2. See Donald J. Raleigh, Experiencing Russia's Civil War: Politics, Society ; and Revolution­ ary Culture in Saratov , 1917-1922 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002). A detailed

local study o f politics in revolutionary Russia (published after this manuscript was com ­ pleted) is Sarah Badcock, Politics and the People in Revolutionary Russia: A Provincial History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). 3. Peter Holquist, M aking War, Forging Revolution. Russia's Continuum o f Crisis, 1914-1921 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002); Joshua Sanborn, Drafting the Nation: M ilitary Conscription, Total War, and Mass Politics, 1903-1925 (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University

Press, 2003). 4. John Dickie, “A Word at War: The Italian Arm y and Brigandage 1860-1870,” History Workshop Journal 33 (1992): 4.

5. As an example, see Vladimir Brovkin, ed., The Bolsheviks in Russian Society: The Revo­ lution and the C ivil Wars (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997).

Chapter 1: Revolution and Recalcitrance 1. “ Konets esero-bandita Antonova,” Izvestiia VTsIK, 2 July 1922,4. 2. V. I. Lenin, Sochineniia , 4th ed. (Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatePstvo politicheskoi literatury, 1941-1955), 32:160. 3. A. A. Sobol’eva, Krest'ianskoe vosstanie v Tambovskoi gubernii (1920-1921 gg.): Bibliograficheskii ukazatel' (Tambov: MINTs, 1993); V. D. D em en fev and V. V. Samoshkin,

“Vosstanie krest’ian na tambovshchine v 1920-1921 godakh (obzor literatury),” Istoriia SSSR 6 (1990).

4. S. P. Klishin, “Tambovskie volki (razmyshleniia o geroiakh zemli tambovskoi),” Tambovskie izvestiia , 22 June 1999,12. Klishin has written a historical novel on the Antonov re­

bellion, available for download from Russian white supremacist Internet sites. 5. Official cultural links between Tambov and the Vendée region in France, site o f a broadly similar historical tragedy, were initiated after Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn addressed a bicenten­ nial commemoration o f the Vendée rebellion in September 1993 and spoke o f the events in Tambov in 1920-1921, which he had researched in the 1960s. See Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “ Slovo pri otkrytii pamiatnika Vandeiskomu vosstaniiu,” Vestnik russkogo khristianskogo d












Notes to Pages 4 -6

168 (1993); Lev Lazarenko, “ IMKA-Press i dni vandei na ta m b o v s h c h in e Vestnik russkogo khristianskogo dvizheniia 170 (1994).

6. A succinct statement o f the charge that deserters formed the core o f anti-Soviet opposi­ tion was made in the summer o f 1921, when Red Arm y officers surveyed the wreckage follow­ ing the suppression o f the Tambov insurgency: “Many obligations [during the civil war] fell upon the peasant, but the thrifty m uzhik does not believe in obligation. As a consequence, op­ position to the proletariat g re w ,. . . peasants hid their surplus grain by burying it in the ground, and they refused to send their sons to serve in the Red Army. Such evasion o f mili­ tary service, rejecting the call o f the revolution, assumed significant proportions;. . . nearly nine-tenths o f the service-age population in Tambov was deserters. Desertion possesses a political character, it is a protest against the revolution.” Quoted in N. V. Fatueva, Protivostoianie: krizis vlasti— tragediia naroda (Riazan’: Rus’, 1996), 252. See also the article by the same officer,

A. Kazakov, “Obshchie prichiny vozniknoveniia banditizma i krest’ianskikh vosstanii,” KrasnaiaArm iia. Vestnik voenno-nauchnogo obshchestva p ri voennoi akademiiyno. 9 (1921), 32-33.

7. M. A. Molodtsygin, Krasnaia Armiia: rozhdenie i stanovlenie, 1917-1920 gg. (Moscow: IRI RAN, 1997), 106-08. Trotsky never ruled out conscription, and in March 1918 declared that the regime was forced to rely on the “voluntary principle” o f enlistment by the organizational shortcomings o f the Soviet state, which made conscription unlikely in the short term. See Leon Trotsky, How the Revolution Arm ed , trans. Brian Pearce (London: New Park Publica­ tions, 1979), i:43-448. V. P. Portnov and M . M. Slavin, Pravovye osnovy stroiteVstva Krasnoi Arm ii, 1918-1920 gg.: istoriko-iuridicheskoe issledovanie (Moscow: Nauka, 1985), 109-11.

9. Small units mobilized from Tambov to engage Czechoslovak legionnaires at Rtishchevo in Saratov Province were defeated. Two captured Red Arm y soldiers were released with the instructions: “G o and tell the Russians that they are idiots. W hat do they want from us? We don’t want any bloodshed, we just want to get out o f Russia as quickly as we can.” Quoted in V. V. Kanishchev and lu. V. Meshcheriakov, Anatomiia odnogo miatezha. Tambovskoe vosstanie, 17-19 iiuniia 1918 g. (Tambov: Tambovskii gosudarstvennyi universitet, 1995), 59. See also Boryba rabochikh i kresfian pod rukovodstvom BoVshevistskoi partii za ustanovlenie i uprochenie Sovetskoi vlasti v tambovskoi gubernii (1917-1918 gody): sbom ik dokumentov (Tambov: [s.n.], 1957), 157*

10. Kanishchev and Meshcheriakov, Anatom iia , 59; L. M. Spirin, Klassy i partii v grazhdanskoi voine v rossii (1917-1920 gg.) (Moscow: Mysl’, 1968), 342-43. The original decrees set­

ting out this first conscription campaign were not published until June. See Dekrety sovetskoi vlasti (Moscow: Izdatel’stvo politicheskoi literatury, 1957-1989), 2:428-29,438-40,507-08.

11. Iurii Meshcheriakov,“U ltim atum [1],” Gorod na Tsney12 August 1997,7. 12. In the elections to the Constituent Assembly in November 1917, the PSR won over 75 percent o f the rural vote in Tambov Province, and the Bolsheviks 20 percent. This was a re­ spectable showing for the Bolsheviks in a province with only 6.5 percent o f its population officially categorized as urban, but the Bolsheviks evidently fared better in areas close to a substantial military garrison. In some cases, “ herd voting” was evident. For instance, in Morshansk uezd, one o f the five voting districts within Kulikov volost unanimously supported the Bolshevik Party. In two neighboring districts, the Bolshevik Party received only 98 votes out o f a possible 3,000. See L. G. Protasov, Vserossiiskoe uchrediteVnoe sobranie: istoriia rozhdeniia

Notes to Pages 37-42


forma Press, 1995); Sheila Fitzpatrick, Stalin’s Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village After Collectivization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994); Lynne Viola, Peasant Rebels Under Stalin: Collectivization and the Culture o f Peasant Resistance (Oxford: Oxford

University Press, 1996). 155. For instance, see Davidian and Kozlov, “Chastnye pis ma epokhi grazhdanskoi voiny,” 228,229. 156. Provincial Communist Party officials noted that many w ho resigned their member­ ship on the eve o f party mobilizations cited ill health, family obligations, bereavements, and other dubious reasons. Even more worrying was that many reapplied for membership after military mobilizations had been completed. See RGASPI f. 17, op. 65, d. 68,11. 66-66ob, 103. 157. Danilov and Shanin, K V y49. Some accusations were not quite true. Many who worked on state farms were one-time deserters who were not trusted with active military service. 158. O n the mismanagement o f state cooperative farms, and peasant attitudes toward them, see Danilov and Shanin, K V y36-38,47,48-49; Okninskii, Dva goda , 217-19; “Kommunisty na rabote (Pis’m o krest’ianina iz Tambovskoi gub.),” Revoliutsionnaia Rossiia , no. 5 (1921): 28. O n the number o f such farms in Tambov Province, see V. P. Danilov and E. A. Tiurina, eds., Kooperativno-kolkhoznoe stroiteVstvo v SSSR , 1917-1922. D okum enty i materialy (Moscow: Nauka, 1990), 234-35. 159. Such tensions generally characterized antidesertion efforts from early 1919, when the Antidesertion Commission was created as an independent body, rather than as subordinate to the Military Commissariat. Tensions may have first begun when the intensified campaign to round up draft dodgers in the summer o f 1919 led to calls for Red Arm y units to supple­ m ent the efforts o f antidesertion patrols, calls initially resisted by Red Arm y officers. See RGVA f. 25887, op. 3, d. 964,1.6; Danilov and Shanin, K D P y283-84. 160. The Antidesertion Commission gained the authority to inspect Red Arm y reserve garrisons in October 1919. See Daines and Kariaev, Rewoensovety432. 161. The Antidesertion Commission claimed that o f the 35,685 deserters handed over to the M ilitary Commissariat between 1 January and 1 M ay 1920, by 1 June 1920 nearly one-third (10,578) had deserted again and had been reapprehended. Furthermore, o f the 4,973 desert­ ers handed over in the week o f 23 M ay-i June, over 50 percent were alleged to have already absconded once more from the custody o f the Military Commissariat. See GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d.836,1.41. 162. GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 630,1.21. 163. GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 621,1.59. 164. GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 593,1.104. This report provoked a reply by the former head o f the Antidesertion Commission, Mokhnachev, accusing Shikunov o f writing an “illiterate” memo on the basis o f minimal familiarity with the commission’s work. This reply did not re­ verse the changes that had been made. See GATO R-i, op. 1, d. 184,11.875-76. 165. GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 36, 11.238,240. This figure was down slighdy from the totals reported in M ay 1920, which estimated the number still at large in the province as 35,000. See Berelowitch and Danilov, eds., Sovetskaia derevnia 1:272.

Notes to Pages 6 -7


i gibeli (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 1997), 232-36.

13. The first uezd soviet to assert control over local administration was in Usman, in N o­ vember 1917. In this town, where soldiers outnumbered townspeople, the military garrison was the prime mover in events leading to the declaration o f Soviet power. Other towns with large garrison populations— Lipetsk, Borisoglebsk— declared soviet power before the end o f 1917. Kozlov, another such town, had both a large soldier population and many railway work­ ers. See V. Andreev, “Vozniknovenie i razvitie Sovetskoi vlasti v Tambovskoi gubernii,” Kom munisty no. 11 (1923). O n the political activity o f garrisoned soldiers in the Blackearth region

o f Russia in 1917, see also L. G. Protasov, Soldaty gam izonov tsentraVnoi Rossii v bor’be za v la sf sovetov (Voronezh: Izdatel’stvo Voronezhskogo universiteta, 1978).

14. Kanishchev and Meshcheriakov, Anatom iiay69. 15. Similar demands were made by French villagers during the mobilization for war with Prussia. See Bertrand Taithe, Citizenship and Wars: France in T urm oil 1870-1871 (London: Routledge, 2001), 23. 16. The Soviet government was just beginning to grapple with the problem o f disarming the rural population. According to Trotsky, the soldiers demobilized in 1917 left with their firearms, and the village communities guarded these weapons fiercely against attempts to re­ possess them. Similarly, a problem for the new Red Arm y was that the cavalry reserves o f the former tsarist army had melted away with the demobilization o f soldiers in 1917. These became serious issues when the Red Army was taking shape in the summer o f 1918. See V. V. Ovechkin, “ Iz”iatie loshadei u naseleniia dlia Krasnoi armii v gody grazhdanskoi voiny,” Voprosy istorii 8 (1999); Trotsky, H ow the Revolution Arm edy1:427-28; Sanborn, Drafting the Russian Nation, 179; S. V. Starikov, Demobilizovannye revoliutsionnye soldaty i oktiabryskaia revoliutsiia v derevne (Saransk: IzdatePstvo Saratovskogo universiteta, 1989), 41-42. 17. Kanishchev and Meshcheriakov, Anatomiiay 67-68. The demand for firearms and for general military training was strong in other parts o f the Soviet territory, as well. See Alexis Berelowitch and V. P. Danilov, eds., Sovetskaia derevnia glazami V C h K -O G P U -N K V D , 19181939: dokum enty i materialy (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 1998), 1:71; Starikov, Demobilizovannyey

150-51. There are parallels with efforts by the French republican officials to mobilize peas­ ants, as one community’s response from 1793 makes dear: “You speak o f enemies who threaten our homes; it is there that we shall be able to push them back i f they come to attack us; it is there, against them and against all others, that we shall defend our women, our animals, our harvests or else we shall perish together.” Quoted in Yves-Marie Bercé, Corquants et nu-pieds: les soulèvements paysans en France du X V Ie au XDCe siècle (Paris: Gallimard, 1991), 185.

18. V. V. Kabanov,“Oktiabr’skaia revoliutsiia i krest’ianskaia obshchina,” Istoricheskiezapiski 111 (1984).

19. P. S. Kabytov et al., Russkoe krest’ianstvo: etapy dukhovnogo osvobozhdeniia (Moscow: Mysl’, 1988), 114. 20. Portnov and Slavin, Pravovye osnovy stroiteVstva Krasnoi Arm ii, 1918-1920 gg., 112. 21. John Bushnell, M utiny am id Repression: Russian Soldiers in the Revolution o f 1905-1906 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985); A. B. Berkevich, “Krest’ianstvo i vseobshchaia mobilizatsiia v iiule 1914 g.,” Istoricheskie zapiski 23 (1947); Joshua Sanborn, “The Mobilization o f 1914 and the Question o f the Russian Nation: A Re-examination,” Slavic Review 59, no. 2 (2000).


Notes to Pages 7-9

22. O n the early organization o f local military commissariats, see E. G. Gimpel’son, “ Iz istorii organizatsii mestnogo voennogo upravleniia (1918-1920 gg.) ,” in Grazhdanskaia voina v rossii: sobytiia, mnenii, otsenki , ed. N. A. Ivnitskii (Moscow: Raritet, 2002).

23. Mikhail G. Kolosov, quoted in Kanishchev and Meshcheriakov, Anatom iia, 60. 24. O n the uprising in Tambov, 17-19 June 1918, see Kanishchev and Meshcheriakov, Anatom iia.

25. Raleigh, Experiencing Russia's Civil War, 55-56. 26. The settled balance o f the coalition upon its assumption o f control over the Soviet ex­ ecutive committee in Tambov Province in April 1918 was fifteen Bolshevik members and ten LSRs. This provincial coalition took shape after the LSRs had walked out o f the Sovnarkom in March 1918 in protest o f the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. The LSR central committee urged its members to remain in local government and other bureaucratic posts, but by June 1918, there would be no LSRs on the Tambov soviet executive committee. Still, the LSRs maintained a strong presence in local administrations, and an outright exclusion so early in the develop­ ment o f Soviet administration in the province would have been unworkable, owing to the or­ ganizational weakness o f the Bolshevik Party in the province. Following the failed uprising in Moscow in July 1918 and the formal collapse o f the coalition, LSRs in local administrations were tolerated in Tambov, so long as individual LSRs formally denounced the actions o f their central committee. See N. A. O katov et al., eds., Sovety Tambovskoi gubernii vgody grazhdanskoi voiny; 1918-1921 gg . (Voronezh: TsentraTno-chernozemnoe knizhnoe izdatel’stvo, 1989),

74-75; V.V. Shelokhaev et al., eds., Partiia levykh sotsialistov-revoliutsionnerov, 1917-1925: dokumenty i materialy (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2000), 1:183. Reactions by regional LSR party organ­

izations and the local soviet administration are surveyed in la. V. Leont’ev, “6 Iuliia 1918 goda: regional’nyi aspekt,” in Grazhdanskaia voina v rossii: sobytiia, mnenii, otsenki, ed. N. A. Ivnit­ skii (Moscow: Raritet, 2002). 27. Village communities facing the demands o f state food procurement agents in June 1918 were emboldened by news that the provincial soviet administration had been overthrown on 17 June, and for a brief time many clung to this received information to justify continued de­ fiance. See Iurii Meshcheriakov,“U ltim atum [2],” Gorod na Tsne, 19 August 1997. 28. In the consecutive mobilizations between June and August 1918, the Red Arm y con­ scripted some 560,000 soldiers, but most were from the major industrial centers and areas im­ mediately threatened by military conflict. See S. M. Kliatskin, Na zashchite oktiabria (Moscow: Nauka, 1965), 201. 29. The Red Arm y experienced major setbacks in conscripting the general population in 1918, but enjoyed success in the cities, broadening the scope o f mobilization in Petrograd and Moscow to offset shortfalls in provincial centers. See Molodtsygin, Krasnaia Arm iia: rozhdenie i stanovlenie, 1917-1920 gg., 121; David Footman, C ivil War in Russia (London: Faber and

Faber, 1961), 158. 30. Membership o f the RKP(b) in Tambov was 2,700 in August 1918. See Perepiska sekretariata TsKa R K P (b) s mestnymi partiinymi organizatsiiami (Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe iz-

datel’stvo politicheskoi literatury, 1957- ), 4:173. 31. Kanishchev and Meshcheriakov, Anatom iia , 249. If the Bolshevik Party leadership in Tambov was considered weak, this was not reflected in an independence o f mind that made

Notes to Pages 10-11


other provincial organizations troublesome for central party leaders. In an August 1918 report, the Moscow regional party committee listed Tambov as having one o f the best party organ­ izations in the region. See Perepiska sekretariata , 4:254-55. 32. Orlando Figes, Peasant Russia, Civil War: The Volga Countryside in Revolution , 1917-1921 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 64-66. 33. W hen the organization o f kombedy was made the first priority o f the Tambov C om ­ munist Party, no fewer than six party activists from Petrograd assumed positions on the provincial party committee. See A. Ia. Pereverzev, Sotsialisticheskaia revoliutsiia v derevne cher nozemnogo tsentra rossii (Voronezh: IzdateFstvo Voronezhskogo universiteta, 1976), 111-12,

116-17. O ne survey o f kombedy revealed that the organization o f only one-third o f local com ­ mittees had been initiated by local cells o f the Com m unist Party in Tambov Province. Simi­ lar results were reported for neighboring provinces. See T. V. Osipova, Rossiiskoe kresfianstvo v revoliutsii i grazhdanskoi voine (Moscow: Strelets, 2001), 179.

34. In Morshansk uezd, four out o f five party workers sent out to organize kombedy were sailors from the Black Sea fleet. This contingent, in Morshansk ostensibly for a Bolshevik Party conference, were unusually influential in establishing Soviet power in the uezd in the late summer and autumn o f 1918. See N. N. Azovtsev, Grazhdanskaia voina v SSSR. (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1980), 1:207-09; S. F. Tylik, “Komitety bednoty v Tambovskoi gubernii,” Vestnik leningradskogo universiteta: seriia istorii, iazyka i literaturii 18, no. 8 (1963): 43; Pereverzev, Sotsialisticheskaia revoliutsiia , 118. Roughly one-third o f the village-level committees in the

province were organized in Kozlov uezd, another major center for garrisoning and assigning Red Arm y troops. See Fatueva, Protivostoianie , 35. 35. Some 20 percent o f local kombedy in Tambov Province were organized on the initia­ tive o f volost soviet organizations. Osipova, Rossiiskoe, 182. 36. Figes, Peasant Russia , 193-94; Tylik, "Komitety,” 44; O katov et al., Sovety Tambov­ skoi gubernii , 123; V. P. Antonov-Saratovskii, ed., Sovety v epokhu voennogo kom m unizm a

( 1918-1921): sbornik dokum entov (Moscow: IzdateFstvo kommunisticheskoi akademii, 1928), 1:357-58.

37. S. F. Tylik, “Vedushchaia roF rabochikh Petrograda, Moskvy, i drugikh tsentrov v revoliutsionnykh preobrazovaniakh v derevne v 1918 g. (po materialam tambovskoi gubernii),” in Iz istorii Velikoi Oktiabrskoi sotsialisticheskoi revoliutsii i sotsialisticheskogo stroiteVstvav SSSR,

ed. V. A. Ovsiakin (Leningrad: Nauk, 1967), 157. 38. At the beginning o f October 1918 there were just over 4,800 requisition agents in the province. By the end o f 1918, there would be 5,546 such agents, organized into forty-eight squads— more than in any other province in Soviet territory. See G. A. Belov, ed., Iz istorii grazhdanskoi voiny v SSSR: sbornik dokumentov i materialov v trekh tomakh (Moscow: Sovet-

skaia Rossiia, i960), 1:297; Alessandro Stanziani, "La gestion des approvisionnements et la restauration de la gosudarstvennosf: le Narkomprod , Farmee, et les paysans,” Cahiers du M onde russe 38, nos. 1-2 (1997): 87. According to another source, the number o f requisition workers

in Tambov was much greater in August and September— 11,325— at a time when such work­ ers were intended to be aiding with the harvest and registering the quantities o f grain. (This figure seems inflated.) See A. la. Pereberzev, Velikii Oktiabr* ipereobrazovanie derevni (Voronezh: TsentraFnoe-Chernozemnoe knizhnoe izdateFstvo, 1987), 61. Also Aleksei M Chernykh,


Notes to Pages 12-15

“RoP gubernii chernozemnogo tsentra v reshenii zadach prodovoPstvennoi politiki v Rossii (1918-1920 gg.)” (Candidate’s diss., Moskovskaia gosudarstvennaia akademiia im. Skriabina, 1996), 170. 39. Pereverzev, Sotsialisticheskaia revoliutsiia, 147-48. Some procurement agents became members o f these local kombedy, just as garrisoned soldiers and non-native Com m unist Party became members o f committees they helped establish. 40. Tylik, “ Komitety,” 44; Tylik, “Vedushchaia roP rabochikh Petrograda, Moskvy, i drugikh tsentrov v revoliutsionnykh preobrazovaniakh v derevne v 1918 g. (po materialam tambovskoi gubernii),” 163-64. Tylik gives slightly higher figures in his later essay, but his conclusion that some 95 percent o f all local-level kom bedy were established in August and September re­ mains unchanged. 41. The plan adopted by the Soviet government in May 1918 called for a Red Arm y o f some eighty-eight infantry divisions, thirty o f which w ould be held in strategic reserve. O n 11 Sep­ tember, RVSR scrapped these plans and ordered the formation o f only eleven large divisions, composed o f nine regiments each, to be held in reserve. See P. Dmitriev, “Sozdanie strategicheskikh rezervov Krasnoi Arm ii v gody grazhdanskoi voiny,” Voenno-istoricheskii zhurnal

6 ( 1974): 66. 42. Molodtsygin, Krasnaia Armiia: rozhdenie i stanovleniey 1917-1920 gg., 127. 43. Evan Mawdsley, The Russian C ivil War, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2000), 63,182; Molodtsygin, Krasnaia Armiia: rozhdenie i stanovlenie, 1917-1920 gg., 165; A. I. Panov, ed., Ofitserskii korpus v politicheskoi istorii Rossii. D okum enty i materialy (Moscow: Eidos, 2002),

2:438-40. 44. G. V. Sharapov et al., eds., Istoriia sovetskogo krest’ianstva (Moscow: Nauka, 1986), 1:132. 45. The formation o f local military committees (voenkomy ) was ordered by Sovnarkom on 8 April 1918. According to GimpePson, by the end o f 1918, there were 7 regional military com ­ missariats in Soviet Russia, 39 provincial offices, 385 uezd-level, and around 7,000 volost-level offices o f the commissariat. This contrasts with the statistics for mid-June 1918, on the eve o f the first general mobilization and before the introduction o f the kombedy, at which time there were only 3 regional, 26 provincial, 190 uezd-level, and a grand total o f 13 volost-level offices o f the commissariat in Soviet Russia. GimpePson, “ 6 Iuliia 1918,” 352-54; E. G. GimpePson, Sovetyvgody inostrannoi interventsii igrazhdanskoi voiny (Moscow: Nauka, 1968),

287“ 88. 46. See the resolution on “ Red Terror” adopted by the Morshansk uezd Congress o f Vil­ lage Kombedy, 13 September 1918. B o fb a rabochikh i krest’ian, 211. 47. Pereverzev, Sotsialisticheskaia revoliutsiia, 121-23. 48. RGASPI f. 17, op. 65, d. 67, 11.4 -5. 49. Silvana Malle, The Economic Organization o f War Communism, 1918-1921 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 338-49. 50. Bor’ba rabochikh i kresfian, 182; Iurii Meshcheriakov, “Stolknovenie [1],” Gorod na Tsne, 25 March 1998; Iurii Meshcheriakov, “ Stolknovenie [2],” Gorod na Tsne, 1 April 1998; Iurii Meshcheriakov, “Stolknovenie [3],” Gorod na Tsne, 8 April 1998. The resolution passed by the dissident “extraordinary” congress warned local inhabitants: “At the time o f the harvest, there will be merciless requisitioning. We must be united.“ 51. Following this incident, an officer in the Second Morshansk Aviation Group, Kezhun,

Notes to Pages 15-17


requested permission from the chairman o f the military-revolutionary council in Morshansk to disperse crowds o f marchers with machine guns fired from fight aircraft. The uprising began anew a few days later, but it is unknown whether Kezhun’s request was granted. See V. D anilov and T. Shanin, eds., Krest’ianskoe dvizhenie v Tambovskoi gubernii, 1917-1918. D okum enty i materialy (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2003), 368. See also Danilov and Shanin, K D T ,

373-76,383-85. 52. GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 9 6 , 11. 600b, 81; GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 82,11. i5-i5ob. 53. Bor’ba rabochikh i krest’ian, 229; Okatov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubernii, 121. 54. B or’ba rabochikh i krest’ian , 240-44. O katov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubernii , 121-22; Berelowitch and Danilov, Sovetskaia derevnia 1:105. A serious disturbance occurred in Borisoglebsk, where mobilized junior officers were joined by members o f the Borisoglebsk Cheka, who were themselves on the conscription fist. The insurgents seized some twenty m a­ chine guns and two fight artillery guns on 4 O ctober 1918 and addressed a meeting in the town center calling for, among other things, the reelection o f the soviets, restrictions on the powers o f the Cheka, and purging all Jews from the state administration. (As if the call for restictions on the Cheka— by Chekists— was not curious enough, the insurgents also called for the arrest o f all former imperial army officers, which probably complicated attempts o f Soviet officials to brand this another “whiteguardist” conspiracy.) The uprising was short­ lived, however, ending after less than twenty-four hours, and with the municipal soviet chair­ man, Savin, the only notable casualty. See D anilov and Shanin, K D T , 363. 55. Osipova, Rossiiskoe, 262; Fatueva, Protivostoianie; Spirin, Klassy i partii v grazhdanskoi voine v rossii (1917-1920 gg.)> 183. The most severely affected uezds were Morshansk, Tambov,

Kirsanov, and Shatsk. (Some description o f these events can be found in Osipova, Rossiiskoe , 267-70, although the author confuses many details and place names, collapsing several dis­ persed events into a single uprising.) Possibly the most serious incident occurred in Shatsk, where the town was virtually surrounded by insurgents from the countryside in early N o­ vember 1918. The local Communist Party and militia and Red Arm y men braced for a siege, but the uprising was suppressed when reinforcements armed with fight artillery arrived on 6 November. See Danilov and Shanin, K D T , 380-81. 56. GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 178, 11.9 -10 . Parish church bells were traditionally used to sound the alarm in case o f fire. O n disturbances in the area around Levye Lamki, see Okatov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubernii, 129-30. 57. GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 178,1.10. 58. At the Fourth Tambov Congress o f Soviets in February-March 1919, the report o f the provincial department o f administration spoke first o f the planned conspiratorial nature o f the November uprisings and, second, noted that in November 1918 four state policies— all “painful” for village communities— were introduced: military conscription, collection o f an extraordinary monetary tax, requisition o f grain surpluses, and the decree on separation o f church and state. See Antonov-Saratovskii, Sovety, 1:151. Some state officials remained con­ vinced that the uprisings were the work o f foreign and domestic enemies o f the revolution. See Berelowitch and Danilov, Sovetskaia derevnia 1:110. 59. State officials were aware o f the variety o f causes o f uprisings throughout Soviet ter­ ritory and sought to gain a composite picture in their requests for reports from provincial ad­ ministration officials. See V. Danilov and T. Shanin, eds., Krest’ianskoe dvizhenie v Povolzh’e,


Notes to Pages 17-19

1919-1922. Dokum enty i materialy (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2002), 33-34.

60. GATO f. R-1236, op. 1, d. 137,11.58-59. For contemporary appeals concerning the need to contain panic, see B o rb a rabochikh i kresfian , 242-43. 61. O n “mobilization” o f horses by the state in 1918, see Ovechkin, “ Iz”iatie”; Sharapov et al., Istoriiay133. The fate o f parish churches was also o f concern as the government cemented its presence in the countryside. M any uprisings were triggered by incidents that reflected people’s concern for the sanctity o f their local church. For example, see Danilov and Shanin, K D T y379. Nevertheless, some local officials were convinced that the “people” were being won

over to the secularizing principles o f the revolution. See Perepiska sekretariata , 5:105-06. 62. For research into similar events in the northern provinces, see S. V. Iarov, “ Krest’ianskie volneniia na Severo-Zapade sovetskoi Rossii v 1918-1919 gg.,” Kresfianovedenie: Teoriia, istoriia, sovremennost* 1 (1996).

63. GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 94, 1.22. 64. Fatueva, Protivostoianie , 40. 65. V. V. Britov, R ozhdenie Krasnoi A rm ii (Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe uchebnopedagogicheskoe izdatel’stvo, 1961), 231. O n m obilization o f officers and junior officers throughout the civil war, see A. L. Kublanov, Sovet rabochei i krest’ianskoi oborony (noiabr 1918-m art 1920 g.) (Leningrad: IzdatePstvo Leningradskogo universiteta, 1975), 52. For results

in Tambov Province, see RGVA f. 25883, op. 1, d. 946, 1.290. 66. B o rb a rabochikh i kresfian , 205; Perepiska sekretariata , 5:349,354-56; O katov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubernii , 128-29; V. P. Portnov, ed., Partiino-politicheskaia rabota v krasnoi armii (apreV 1918-fevraV 1919). Dokum enty (Moscow: M inOborony SSSR, 1961), 126-28,292.

67. M ark Von Hagen, Soldiers in the Proletarian Dictatorship: The Red Arm y and the Soviet Socialist State , 1917-1930 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 48.

68. The collapse o f resistance in Borisoglebsk occurred despite the best efforts o f the uezd Communist Party to prepare for the street fighting that they feared would accompany “whiteguardist” uprisings. See Perepiska sekretariata , 4:315; V. Danilov and T. Shanin, eds., Kresfianskoe vosstanie v Tambovskoi gubernii v 1919-1921 gg. : dokumenty i materialy

(Tambov: Intertsentr, 1994), 27; E. A. Nakrokhin, Inogo ne bylo p u ti (Voronezh: Izdatel’stvo Voronezhskogo universiteta, 1975), 87-94. Later reports by Borisoglebsk administration and party sources stated that some 300 people in Borisoglebsk were executed by the Cossacks dur­ ing the occupation. Most were Communist Party members and soviet personnel w ho failed to evacuate, but one source insists that civilians were often executed for the slightest in­ fringements: “Women and children suffered terrible abuses ( izdevateVstva)yand the Cossacks shot people for nothing more than [for example] dancing Latin-style dances.” See RGASPI f. 17, op. 65, d. 68,11. i-2ob. 69. The town was retaken by the Red Arm y on 7 January 1919. Borisoglebsk officials, meet­ ing at the uezd Congress o f Soviets in February 1919 emphasized the collaboration o f local Menshevik and SR party members with the D on Cossacks during the occupation. What they failed to mention, and which was raised one week later by provincial officials at the Fourth Tambov Congress o f Soviets, was that over eighty Borisoglebsk soviet personnel and C om ­ munist Party members had defected to the D on Cossacks during the occupation and left town w ith the Cossacks who managed to escape on 6 January 1919. See Antonov-Saratovskii, Sovety y1:152-53,428.

Notes to Pages 19-22


70. RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 816,11.4 6 ,5 6 ,560b; d. 819,11. 23-23ob, 24,25,117,155. 71. Likewise, the stability o f the Provisional Government in 1917 was seriously com pro­ mised by riots involving garrisoned soldiers in provincial cities and towns. See V. I. Kostrikin, ZemeVnye komitety v 1917godu (Moscow: Nauka, 1975), 282-84; V. V. Kanishchev, Russkii bunt, bessmyslennyi i besposhchadnyi: pogromnoe dvizhenie vgorodakh Rossii v 1917-1918 gg. (Tam­

bov: Tambovskii gosudarstvennyi universitet im. Derzhavina, 1995), 71,72-73; Kanishchev and Meshcheriakov, Anatom iiay6-9. 72. RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 819,11.193-94. 73. “Postanovlenie soveta oborony o bor*be s dezertirstvom,” 25 December 1918. See Dekrety sovetskoi vlasti, 4:254-56.

74. M . A. Molodtsygin, Raboche-kresfianskii soiuz, 1918-1920 (Moscow: Nauka, 1987), 138. 75. Molodtsygin, Raboche-kresfianskii soiuz, 1918-1920,68-91. 76. Lars T. Lih, Bread and Authority in Russia, 1914-1921 (Berkeley: University o f Califor­ nia Press, 1990), 148. Villagers w ho participated in the march toward Morshansk in October 1918 demanded a return to the popularly elected soviets, a demand later investigators found far from “counterrevolutionary.” See GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 9 0 , 1.163. 77. In one case, violent clashes between villagers and Communist Party officials occurred in Andreevka (Borisoglebsk uezd), where a village assembly proceeded with elections while disregarding the electoral list handed down by party officials that excluded so-called kulaks— identified as more than one in five adults in the locality. W hen party officials nullified the election results, they were confronted by a m ob o f villagers. Red Arm y soldiers were called in after shots were fired by the panicked party members, and over thirty-five arrests were made. See GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 399,11.1-2,5,71-73; Okatov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubemiiy162. 78. Antonov-Saratovskii, Sovety, 1:153; Portnov, Partiino-politicheskaia rabota , 292; Perepiska sekretariata , 6:166.

79. Gimpel’son, Sovety , 484; Figes, Peasant Russia, 211-12,219. 80. Molodtsygin, Raboche-kresfianskii soiuz, 1918-1920,254. 81. RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 819,11.193-94. 82. Molodtsygin, Krasnaia Armiia: rozhdenie i stanovlenie, 1917-1920 gg., 131-32; V. M. A n ­ dreev, Rossiiskoe kresfianstvo: navstrechu sud*be (Moscow: Moskovskii Pedagogicheskii Gosu­ darstvennyi Universitet, 1997), 130-31. In many cases volost administrations dispatched individuals who were patently unsuited for military service, such as invalids and the elderly. In Iaroslavl Province, over 30 percent o f those who were m obilized deserted before they were assigned to units. See Molodtsygin, Krasnaia Armiia: rozhdenie i stanovlenie, 1917-1920 gg., 134 .

83. Molodtsygin, Raboche-kresfianskii soiuz, 1918-1920,129-38; Mark A. Weitz, A Higher Duty: Desertion among Georgia Troops during the C ivil War (Lincoln: University o f Nebraska

Press, 2000). 84. Molodtsygin, Krasnaia Armiia: rozhdenie i stanovlenie, 1917-1920 gg., 178. 85. Britov, Rozhdenie, 230. 86. RGASPI f. 17, op. 65, d. 67, 1.46; Perepiska sekretariata, 7:474,480. 87. An official from the M inistry o f Internal Affairs in Penza wrote o f an acquaintance working in Tambov, in his native Morshansk uezd: “ [The men in the village o f Lipovka] were refusing to enter the Red Army. They had sent a delegation to comrade Lipin [the local so-


Notes to Pages 23-25

viet chairman], w ho gave them his word that they would not be forced into the army. I was told about this from comrade Gavrilov, who learned about it from some friends in Solominka w ho did not know that he was a Com m unist Party member. It should be pointed out that Gavrilov is the son o f a local priest, and therefore people in the area treat him with full con­ fidence, even though he in fact is a very active member o f the party and is even an editor o f our uezd’s Com m unist Party newspaper.” GATO f. R-394, op. 1,278, 1. 400b (15 M ay 1919). 88. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 29-30. The introduction o f antidesertion patrols mirrors the introduction o f the colonnes mobiles under Napoleon, a similar escalation in the French state’s struggle with desertion in the early nineteenth century. See Alan Forrest, Conscripts and D e­ serters: The Arm y and French Society D uring the Revolution and Empire (Oxford: Oxford Uni­

versity Press, 1989), 211-13. 89. The tactic o f lying low in areas previously searched by the antidesertion patrols was ex­ tremely common, as state officials quickly learned. RGVA f. 25883, op. 1, d. 283,1. 20b; f. 25887, op. 1, d. 819,11.193-94. 90. According to Okninskii, the commander spoke perfect Russian but with a distinctively “foreign” accent. 91. S. Olikov, Dezertirstvo v Krasnoi armii i borba s nim (Leningrad: Izdatel’stvo shtaba, 1926), 39-40,59. 92. Anton Okninskii, Dva goda sredi kresfian: vidennoe, slyshannoe, perezhitoe v Tambovskoi gubem ii s noiabria 1918 goda do noiabria 1920 goda (Newtonville, MA: Oriental Re­

search Partners, 1986), 122-30. 93. The lion’s share o f recently mobilized reservists assigned for active duty as reinforce­ ments were sent to the eastern front. Nevertheless, the Red Arm y consistently enjoyed a nu­ merical superiority over its enemies on the southern front. See P. Dmitriev, “Ispol’zovanie strategicheskikh rezervov Krasnoi Arm ii v vesennei kampanii 1919 goda,” Voenno-istoricheskii zhurnal 9 (1976): 63-64; Mawdsley, Russian C ivil War, 169.

94. RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 819,1.390. 95. RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 819,11.2 2 7,2270b, 228,2280b, 229,577; f. 11, op. 8, d. 232,1.5. 96. Tambov formed this line o f defense with Kursk, Voronezh, and Kamyshin. N. M. Viunov et al., eds., Direktivy Glavnogo komandovaniia Krasnoi Arm ii, 1917-1920: Sbornik dokumentov (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1969), 427,432. 97. The fortified region ( ukreplennyi raion) was declared in the press on 18 June 1919. The southern portion o f the province was placed under the control o f a special council, headed by the provincial military commissar, K. V. Redz’ko. Okatov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubem ii , 171. Tambov Province was also transferred at this time from the Moscow military sector to the Orel sector. V. O. Daines and T. F. Kariaev, eds., Rewoensovet Respubliki. Protokoly, 1918-1919 gg. (Moscow: Russkii mir, 1997)» 252. 98. Declaration o f martial law sent a panic through the city o f Tambov, and the provin­ cial Cheka and municipal authorities were prompted to issue a supplementary declaration spelling out the crimes that would invite summary execution as reassurance that “the C om ­ munists have no plans to begin slaughtering the people o f Tambov city.” See Danilov and Shanin, K V , 31. 99. Pavel A. Aptekar’, “Soprotivlenie krest’ian politike Bol’shevikov v 1918-1922 godakh” (Candidate’s diss., Moskovskii gosudarstvennyi universitet im. Lomonosov, 2002), 160; Oka-

Notes to Pages 25-26


tov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubem ii , 215. 100. Okatov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubem ii , 175-77; Danilov and Shanin, K V , 33-34. The Communist Party began speaking o f a “turning point” in the struggle against desertion as early as July. As explained in the famous circular letter entitled “All O ut for the Fight Against Denikin!” “ The reasons [for the mass return o f deserters] are, first, the more capable and sys­ tematic w ork o f our party comrades; second, the peasants are growing more aware o f the fact that a victory for Kolchak and Denikin would mean the establishment o f conditions far worse than those suffered during tsarist times— the enslavement o f the workers and peasants, flog­ ging, robbery, and abuse from officers and landlords.” V. I. Lenin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii , 5th ed. (Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatePstvo politicheskoi literatury, 1958-1965), 39:94. 101. Osipova, Rossiiskoe, 319-20. 102. RGVA f. 11, op. 8, d. 232,1.132. Riots did occur in Mtsensk, where recently returned de­ serters overwhelmed guards and searched private houses for food, an ominous development for military officials. See RGVA f. 11, op. 8, d. 232,11.3 7 ,400b. 103. K. V. Agureev, Razgrom belogyardeiskikh voisk D enikina (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1961), 82. Most o f the shortfalls at the front in the autumn o f 1919 were made up by mobilizations o f Communist Party, Komsomol, and trade union members. See P. Dmitriev, “ Ispol’zovanie strategicheskikh rezervov Krasnoi Arm ii v osenne-zimnei kampanii 1919-1920 gg.,” Voennoistoricheskii zh u m a l 10 (1979): 46. The Antidesertion Commission filtered apprehended de­

serters into two basic groups, “malicious” (zlostnyi ) and “weak-willed” (po slabosti voliy or simply nezlostnyi). "Malicious” deserters were those who overstayed leave time by fourteen or more days; deserted with army-issue equipment, including firearms; resisted or evaded cap­ ture by antidesertion authorities; deserted more than once. Such men were to be tried before revolutionary tribunals, w ith sentences ranging from reassignment to reserve units, assign­ ment to penal units and prison camps, to (in rare cases) execution. Because o f the manpower shortage in the summer o f 1919, antidesertion officials were instructed to distinguish between those who had been captured and those w ho had surrendered. From the latter group, those who had received military training and were deemed dependable could be assigned to active duty. The remainder were assigned to reserve units. See RGVA f. 11, op. 8, d. 232,1.49; RGASPI f. 17, op. 65, d. 68, 1. 91; Orlando Figes, “ The Red Arm y and Mass Mobilization during the Russian Civil War, 1918-1920,” Past and Present 129 (1990): 199; Hagen, Soldiers , 76. 104. RGVA f. 11, op. 8, d. 232,11.17,49,57. 105. RGVA f. 25883, op. 1, d. 150,1.114. 106. Daines and Kariaev, eds., Rewoensovet, 288.; RGVA f. 11, op. 8, d. 232,1.147. While the chief o f staff at Supreme Headquarters, N. I. Rattel’, instructed some military commissariats to send these deserters to portions o f the front in need o f reinforcement, without regard to their material condition (send them “as they are“ ), Trotsky complained that local commis­ sariats were simply “dumping” (brasaiut) lots o f deserters on front-line units. Yet, front-line commanders were requesting reinforcements by asking for “X number o f deserters,” rather than “soldiers” or “reservists.” (ibid., 11.5,26,27,28,29,149) 107. RGVA f. 11, op. 8, d. 232,11. 300b, 61,86,87. M ilitary officials in Riazan’ complained that Tambov continued to send their deserter transports ( eshelony ) well after Tambov had been transferred to a different military sector (Orel). 108. Garrison commanders were instructed to have a reserve supply o f provisions in case


Notes to Pages 26-32

o f an unexpected arrival o f troops, but this made little impact given the general shortages. In a crisis, their only instructions were to intensify political work among the troops to defuse mutinous sentiment. See RGVA f. 11, op. 8, d. 232,1.49. 109. RGVA f. 11, op. 8, d. 232,1.23. 110. Berelowitch and Danilov, Sovetskaia derevnia 1:272. 111. RGVA f. 11, op. 8, d. 232,11.132,133. 112. O n “M amontov’s raid,” see Erik-C. Landis, “A Civil War Episode: General Mamontov in Tambov, August 1919,” The Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East European Studies, no. 1601 (2002). 113. Ibid., 22-23. 114. The immediate fallout o f the White raid into Tambov territory was the trial o f many senior party and provincial administration officials accused o f negligence, indecision, and defeatism. While some were found guilty o f m inor offences, all the senior officials were even­ tually acquitted. Senior members o f the provincial Communist Party organization protested against the coverage o f the trial in the national press. While the headline in the state organ Izvestiia was “O n the Tambov Affair,” the article in the Communist Party newspaper Pravda was

headed “The Trial o f the Deserters.” This headline particularly offended officials in Tambov, who demanded (unsuccessfully) that Pravda editors withdraw it and publish an apology. See RGASPI f. 17, op. 65, d. 67, 11. i33-i33ob. 115. O n the chaos in local administration, see Okninskii, Dva goda , 151-52. 116. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 29-31. 117. Okatov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubernii , 205. 118. See Delano DuGarm , “ Local Politics and the Struggle for Grain in Tambov, 1918-21,” in Provincial Landscapes: Local D im ensions o f Soviet Power, 1917-1953, ed. Donald Raleigh (Pittsburgh: University o f Pittsburgh Press, 2002), esp. 71-73; Erik-C. Landis, “Between Vil­ lage and Kremlin: Confronting State Food Procurement in Civil War Tambov, 1919-1920,” Russian Review 63, no. 1 (2004).

119. Okatov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubernii , 205. 120. GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 1333,1.34 (25 February 1920). 121. GATO f. R-1236, op. 1, d. 773,1.9 (6 A pril 1920) 122. GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 1333,1.10 . 123. GATO f. R-394, op. 1, d. 515,1.160. 124. Iurii Meshcheriakov, “O prichinakh volniknoveniia Antonovshchina’,” in Nash krai tambovskii: tezisy, dokladov, isoobshchenii (Tambov: [s.n.], 1991), 66.

125. Rural soviet officials and Food Commissariat authorities reported villagers going to ever greater lengths to secure seed grain for the sowing season o f 1920, with large groups trav­ eling outside the province to barter for seed grain. See GATO f. R-761, op. 1, d. 185,11. 37-37ob; GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 234,1.500. 126. RGVA f. 11, op. 8, d. 1023,11.54-55. 127. RGVA f. 11, op. 8, d. 1023,11. 77-79» 81,176,332. 128. This record o f men enlisted as a proportion o f the pool o f eligible conscripts was re­ ported as 58 percent, which placed Tambov near the mean for performance throughout the Soviet Republic in 1920 for this particular campaign. The principal reason for nonenlistment was medical, with many young men with typhus sent hom e with orders to return after reçu-

Notes to Pages 32-35


perating. RGVA f. 11, op. 8, d. 1023,11. , 339,377. In July 1920, the garrison population in Tam­ bov city was 18,656, and in Lebedian the total was 5,633, making it the second largest garrison popu-lation in the province. Other significant garrisons were located in Borisoglebsk (3,544), Kozlov (3,533), Kirsanov (2,660), and Morshansk (2,457). The garrisoned population rose and fell month by month, as many were only temporarily assigned to given garrisons. In the largest garrisons, such as in Tambov and Lebedian, the ratio o f permanent to temporarily assigned troops was roughly 50-50, but in the smaller garrisons, the soldier population was almost en­ tirely permanent. RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 217,1. 1260b. 129. RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 211,11.1,3 . 130. G A RF f. 8415, op. 1, d. 115,11. 9-i2ob. 131. RGVA f. 25883, op. 1, d. 288,1.23; GATO f. R-1836, op. 1, d. 816,11.23-24; GATO f. R-1889, op. 1, d. 34, 1.90; GATO f. R-1889, op. 1, d. 297,1.9. 132. GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 621,1.59. On the militarization o f labor and the Red Arm y re­ serves, see Malle, Economic Organization , 485-86. 133. GATO f. R-1837, op. 1, d. 144, 1.287. On the outbreak of infectious diseases in the gar­ risons of Tambov Province in 1920, see GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 233,11.133-34; GATO f. R-1889, op. 1, d. 297,1.8; GATO f. R-394, op. 1, d. 520,1.3; GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 816,1.68. 134. GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 836,1.41. 135. The first major pronouncements on this theme emerged during the autumn m obi­ lization campaigns in 1918, focusing on the financial welfare o f households whose members were conscripted into service. See the 8 September 1918 Narkomtrud decree (“O fonde obespecheniia semei krasnoarmeitsev” ), in Panov, Ofitserskii korpusy436. 136. The first major treatment o f the state’s measures surrounding the welfare o f Red Army families is Molodtsygin, Raboche-kresfianskii soiuz, 1918-1920 . The only other author who treats welfare measures in direct relation to the civil war desertion problem is Sanborn, Draft­ ing the Russian Nation. Sanborn also discusses these measures in the context o f Soviet state

building, developing points about the relationship between the Soviet state and Red Arm y sol­ diers made in Hagen, Soldiers. These welfare measures in the context o f village social and p o ­ litical dynamics are treated in detail in Emily Pyle, “Village Social Relations and the Reception o f Soldiers’ Family Aid Policies, 1912-21” (PhD diss., University o f Chicago, 1997). In Peasant Russia Figes touches on the place o f the Red Arm y serviceman and his family during the civil

war period. 137. Danilov and Shanin, KV, 56. 138. The Kirsanov uezd branch of the commission was investigated and convicted by a revolutionary tribunal in 1920 for precisely such failings. The conclusions of the tribunal read: The affairs of the Pomoshch’ Commission are in such a chaotic state that it is utterly impossi­ ble to establish the extent o f its activities. On all requests for aid filed by Red Army households, there is the official stamp stating “fulfilled,” but any manifestation o f its execution is not found in the survey records of the commission, nor are there any further references to the official number of the filed request. In twelve districts there has yet to be a branch of the commission established, and in those districts where such a branch has been set up, there is no evidence o f any assistance being performed. Between the uezd commission and the districts there is no sys­ tematic or active contact to be found. The majority o f districts have yet to submit reports on the number of Red Army households in their locality and on the needs of those households, and


Notes to Pages 35-37

of the nine districts which have submitted such reports, there have yet to be any updates, de­ spite the fact that official guidelines require updates to be hied at least twice a month. GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 152,11.3,28-31,38. All members o f the Kirsanov uezd commission were officially pardoned on the third anniversary o f the October Revolution. 139. Assistance with held w ork to Red Arm y families was also accomplished by the subbotniki, Communist Party, Komsomol, and trade union members mobilized for such as tasks

as sowing and harvesting. See William Chase, "Voluntarism, Mobilisation and Coercion: Subbotniki, 1919-21,” Soviet Studies 41, no. 1 (1989). 140. Pyle, “Village Social Relations,” chap. 5. 141. GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 1397,1.18. 142. O n the victimization o f Red Arm y households by food requisition squads in Tambov, see GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 233,1.335; GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 234,1.142. 143. See I. Davidian and V. Kozlov, “Chastnye pis’ma epokhi grazhdanskoi voiny. Po materialam voennoi tsenzury,” in Neizvestnaia Rossiia: X X vek (Moscow: Istoricheskoe nasledie, 1992). 144. O n the impact o f material conditions on Confederate Arm y soldiers during the Civil War, see J. Tracy Power, Lee's Miserables: Life in the Arm y o f Northern Virginia from the Wilder­ ness to Appom attox (Chapel Hill: University o f North Carolina Press, 1998), 236.

145. Identity cards for men o f service age were introduced in July 1919, and on 27 August 1919 the Defense Council initiated a campaign to verify such documentation. See Molodtsygin, Krasnaia Armiia: rozhdenie i stanovlenie, 1917-1920 gg.y155,168-70. 146. GATO f. R-1889, op. 1, d. 36, 11.238,240. 147. GATO f. R-1889, op. 1, d. 36, 1.163 (3 March 1920). 148. Sanborn, Drafting the Russian N ation, 54-55. 149. GATO f. R-1889, op. 1, d. 36, 1.154. 150. Some protested their status as deserters in defense o f their honor. One soldier sta­ tioned in Kirsanov uezd complained o f being placed in a reserve unit designated for former deserters, even though he had successfully defended himself against the charge o f desertion. GATO f. R-1889, op. 1, d. 36, 1.57. On the importance o f honor and family obligation in late imperial Russian peasant society, see Jeffrey Burds, Peasant Dreams and M arket Politics: Labor Migration and the Russian Villages, 1861-1905 (Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press, 1998).

151. A historian o f the American Civil War writes: “One key to honor is that the com m u­ nity acts as a mirror in which the individual sees himself reflected. W hen conduct receives community approval, it ceases to be dishonorable.” See Weitz, Higher D uty , 25. 152. RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 218,11.5 , 50b, 7,10,17. 153. The Central Antidesertion Commission, aware o f the impact o f reports from home on morale and discipline in the reserve units, tried to orchestrate a campaign in which loyal Red Arm y soldiers wrote to friends and relatives about the nobility o f their service in the mili­ tary and o f how damaging desertion was to the village, the military campaign, and the revo­ lution. See RGASPI f. 17, op. 65, d. 68, 1.34. 154. This was similar to how the most famous word o f early “ Bolshevik-speak”— kulak— became a weapon in the hands o f rival villagers, both during the civil war and beyond. See Stephen Kotkin, M agnetic M ountain: Stalinism as Civilization (Berkeley: University o f Cali-


Notes to Pages 42-47

Chapter 2: The Making o f a Civil War Bandit 1. This biographical sketch largely relies upon the following sources, unless otherwise noted: Vladim ir V. Samoshkin: “ Eser Aleksandr,” Literaturnaia Rossiiay2 August 1991; “Alek­ sandr Stepanovich Antonov,” Voprosy istorii 2 (1994); “V preddverii miatezha,” Literaturnaia rosssiia , 13 Decem ber 1991. These have been collected and supplemented in Vladim ir V.

Samoshkin, Antonovskoe Vosstanie (Moscow: Russkii Put’, 2005), 145-220. 2. O ne memoirist whose family, at nearly the same time as the Antonovs, relocated to Kirsanov from the the Pale o f Settlement, noted that Kirsanov was “full o f Jews,” despite being legally off-limits to that group. They were attracted by the opportunities offered by the grain trade, and by the corruption in the local bureaucracy that enabled Jews to stay in the town provided they paid regular bribes. See Michael M. Shneyerhoff, Recollections o f the Russian Revolution (Berkeley: University o f California Regional Cultural History Project, i960), 10.

(My thanks to P. Holquist for directing me to this source.) 3. Danilov and Shanin, K V y 264. The baptismal record from the Rogozhskaia church in M oscow was located and copied by investigators in 1908, when Aleksandr Antonov was wanted by the police in Tambov. 4. Ibid., 278. 5. Accoding to police reports, Nataliia Ivanovna died in 1907. However, Valetina Stepanovna recalled for Soviet investigators in 1920 that her mother had died in 1906. Ibid., 267,273. 6. Ibid., 275. 7. Ibid. 265. The event also compromised Antonov’s family in Inzhavino: Stepan Gavrilov was soon identified in police correspondence as “politically suspect” owing to the activities o f his eldest son. Ibid., 266. 8. Ibid., 266-67. 9. Khutors were settlements or communities o f peasant families who had taken advantage o f recent legal reforms to leave the village commune to become private farmers. However, there is no clear evidence that the robbery targeted the Peasant Bank in Kanin (Borisoglebsk uezd) because o f this association.

10. Danilov and Shanin, K V y268. 11. Most people living in Kirsanov were unaware that their Duma representatives had de­ clared the town an autonomous republic until they read it in the central press. “ For us, it caused quite a sensation. But soon after, everything in the town was quiet, peaceful and calm,” wrote A. O. Belousov in “Kirsanovskaia respublika” (Internet site), .php?id=memory.belousov [accessed 18 September 2006]. O n the more radical “republics” o f the summer o f 1917, see Donald Raleigh, “Revolutionary Politics in Provincial Russia: The Tsaritsyn ‘Republic’ in 1917,” Slavic Review 40, no. 2 (1981). 12. Trunin was a salesman o f furniture or kitchenware. Small businessmen such as Trunin were a new force in Kirsanov government and politics in 1917. 13. G. Pirozhkov, “Kirsanovskaia respublika,” Tambovskie khroniki 5-6 (1995): 9. 14. A Cheka report from 1921 advanced the claim that the “ Kirsanov Republic” episode was, in fact, an early Bolshevik attempt to seize power in the town and that Antonov’s involve­ ment in its suppression indicated his profound hostility to the Bolshevik Party. It was even

Notes to Pages 48-53


claimed, without evidence, that Antonov had overseen the burning o f party literature in the wake o f the episode. Danilov and Shanin, KV, 271. 15. Ibid., 269. 16. See Pirozhkov, “ Kirsanovskaia respublika.” 17. See Kanishchev, Russkii bunt , Protasov, Soldaty. 18. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 275. 19. This is according to Antonov’s sister Valentina, who became close friends with Bogoliubskii’s other sister, Klavdiia. See ibid., 274. 20. Ibid., 270. 21. A. I. Ageikin, “Kak proiskhodila Revoliutsiia v Kirsanovskom uezde i vosstanovlenie Sovetskoi vlasti s 1 fevralia 1918 goda” (Internet site), memory.agejkim [accessed 18 September 2006]; B or’ba rabochikh i krest’ian , 224. 22. A Bolshevik Party committee in Kirsanov was organized in March 1918, composed principally o f outsiders, such as A. I. Ageikin. Links with Bolshevik Party cells in the country­ side were established later still, and a uezd party committee was not organized until June 1918. See the reminiscences o f the main Bolshevik protagonist in these developments, A. I. Ageikin, “ Kak proiskhodila rabota v Kirsanovskom uezde” (Internet site), .php?=memory.agejkin [accessed 18 September 2006]. 23. Antonov’s long-time SR colleague, Bazhenov, was the first chairman o f the Kirsanov soviet executive committee when it assumed administrative authority in February 1918. By that time, Bazhenov had joined the Revolutionary Communists and enjoyed temporary se­ curity as a result. O n the LSRs in Tambov and Kirsanov, see Danilov and Shanin, KV, 282; Kanishchev and Meshcheriakov, Anatom iiaychap. 1. O n the Revolutionary Communists, see Raleigh, Experiencing Russia’s Civil War, chap. 5. 24. Danilov and Shanin, K V, 271, 282. The personnel form on which Antonov declares himself to be a Left SR is dated 24 July 1918, over two weeks after the LSR Central Com m it­ tee staged their uprising in Moscow. 25. Ibid., 276; Kanishchev and Meshcheriakov, Anatom iiay 195-96. Aleksandr Antonov’s skepticism about the uprising in Tambov in June 1918 casts doubt on his continued connec­ tions with the PSR in the province. A t the very least, it highlights the degree to which the PSR, like other political parties at the time (including the Bolsheviks), was far from a unitary political organization in Russia. 26. Kanishchev and Meshcheriakov, Anatom iiaychap. 7. 27. W hile it is conceivable that Antonov would have been drawn to involvement in the “ People’s Arm y” o f the Komuch government, no evidence substantiates that involvement. The best circumstantial evidence offered by Samoshkin relates to the involvement in the Komuch Government o f V. K. Vol’skii, a long-standing PSR member and Constituent Assem­ bly delegate from Tam bov Province w hom A ntonov evidently knew personally. See Samoshkin, “V preddverii miatezha.” O ne o f the more informed summaries o f A ntonov’s early activities, filed by the Kirsanov Politburo in October 1920, makes no mention o f Antonov traveling to Saratov or Samara in 1918. See Danilov and Shanin, KV, 69. It is tempting, but speculative, to understand the alleged pilfering o f firearms from the Czechoslovak Legion as informed by knowledge o f the Komuch government and as an intention to support its “ Peo-


Notes to Pages 54-61

pie’s Arm y” in a conflict with Soviet armed forces. 28. G A RF f. R-8415, op. l, d. 127,11.2-8. 29. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 138,1. 220b; GATO f. R-400, op. 1, d. 150,11.14-1500. Iurii Podbel’skii notes that a regional party conference in Inzhavino in 1918 linked Antonov to events in Rudovka and condemned him to death, even organizing a posse to hunt him down. Podbel’skii claims that Antonov’s first acts o f violence in the region were vengeance against those at the con­ ference who had condemned him. See Iurii Podbel’skii, “Vosstanie tambovskikh krest’ian,” Revoliutsionnaia Rossiia , no. 6 (1921).

30. Ishin is mentioned in the same intercepted letter o f 1909 that tipped o ff provincial gendarmes that Antonov was located in Saratov, where he was arrested. See Danilov and Shanin, K V , 268. 31. Ibid., 279. 32. GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 382,11.28,29,30,32. 33. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 280. 34. GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 382,11.20,22-23,440b. 35. RGVA f. 34228, op. 1, d. 299,11.38-39. 36. These include allegations o f Antonov’s role in prom oting antigovernment violence carried out by (in the words o f the report itself) “greens” in June and July 1919, and allegations that Antonov sought contact with Denikin’s representatives, who used airplanes to drop prop­ aganda leaflets encouraging support for Antonov in Tambov Province. See Danilov and Shanin, K V , 156.

37. Berelowitch and Danilov, Sovetskaia derevnia 1:159. 38. GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 1040,1.12. This was alleged by one so-called bandit in Balashov, Petr Fedorovich Popov, arrested in March 1920 (not to be confused with the more prom i­ nent rebel figure from the same province, F. Popov, whose insurgency peaked in March 1921). 39. Dated 26 July 1919, quoted in Samoshkin, “V preddverii miatezha,” 21. 40. According to the Tambov Cheka chief, Iakumchuk, provincial military and security au­ thorities did not have a trained force o f 200 or more men suitable for such an assignment. Those who were available were largely former deserters. See I. K. Iakovlev, ed., Vnutrennie voiska Sovetskoi respubliki, 1917-1922 gg. Dokum enty i materialy (Moscow: Iuridicheskaia literatura,

1972), 432-3341. Samoshkin, “A. S. Antonov,” 70. 42. Okatov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubernii , 223,227.

Chapter 3: Conspiratorial Designs 1.

The razverstka target for the province in the autumn o f 1920 was later explained away

as a mistake whereby the projected harvest was overestimated by some 50 percent. While this was certainly true, accurate harvest projections were never truly achieved by the Food C om ­ missariat, nor was it necessarily in their short-term interest to do so. See Fatueva, Protivostoianie , 267. O n the controversy raised by the 1920 procurement targets, see Landis, “ Between

Village and Kremlin.“

Notes to Pages 62-68


2. The provincial Cheka organization regularly reported on the fears o f hunger expressed by the townspeople, as rumors o f the expected harvest raised concerns about food supply during the winter months. See GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 197,1.379. 3. Izvestiia Tambovskogo gubernskogo soveta rabochikh i kresfianskikh deputatovy no. 109 (18 May 1920), 3. The dry weather had also contributed to the dramatic rise in the number o f bush and forest fires in the region, which were difficult to contain because state officials re­ lied upon the assistance o f local communities to contain any outbreaks. See GATO f. R-394, op. l, d. 556,11.46,48,54,56-59» 61,64,65,66,69-72,83. 4. Disturbances in Morshansk were first reported to Tambov on 16 August and focused on the volost o f Aleksandrovsk. These disorders escalated to engross several other localities in western and northwestern Morshansk uezd. See GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 361, 1. 37; GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 631,1.59. Morshansk uezd became a focus for opposition to the Soviet gov­ ernment’s declaration o f a m onopoly over grain surpluses in May 1918 and to plans to requi­ sition food from village producers. Northwest Morshansk, in particular, became the rural base for the violent resistance that occurred in the autumn. See the three-part series by Iurii Meshcheriakov, “Stolknovenie,” Gorod na Tsney25 March 1998 (p. 6), 1 April 1998 (p. 5), 8 April 1998 (p. 11). 5. The accounts o f the uprising in Kamenka, dealing with what is considered the origin o f the antonovshchinayare often elaborate in detail and thin on documentation. Leaving aside the identifiably “political” content o f the event, the most important descriptions are I. R Donkov, Antonovshchina: zamysV i deistviteVnost’ (Moscow: Izdatel’stvo politicheskoi literatury, 1977);

Vladimir V. Samoshkin, “Antonovshchina: kanun i nachalo,” Literaturnaia Rossiiay8 June 1990, 18-19. Also see Radkey, Unknown Civil War, which is largely based on Podbel’skii, “Vosstanie,” 24-26. All give slightly different accounts, with different dates. 6. GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 631,1.84; Vladimir V. Samoshkin, “Miatezh. Antonovshchina: Protivostoianie,” Literaturnaia Rossiiay26 October 1990,18. 7. GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 631,11.69,80; Danilov and Shanin, K V y57. 8. GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 631,1.23. 9. Danilov and Shanin, K V y57. 10. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 233,11.570-72. 11. GATO f. R-394, op. 1, d. 541,11.2 ,3. The incident occurred on 29 August 1920. 12. Danilov and Shanin, K V y58. 13. RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 217,1.160; GATO f. R-1832, op.i, d. 630,11.117,140. 14. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 233,11.498-99. The initial request to Orel to have portions o f the Twenty-first Regiment transported out o f the province was made by Shikunov, as early as 22 August, when the insurgency was considered isolated to a three-volost area. Reserves were to be transferred to Voronezh, Karachev, Kursk, and Livna. See GATO f. R-1832, op.i, d. 630,1.140. 15. See Landis, “A Civil War Episode.“ 16. The Regional Artillery Administration (OKARTU) possessed authority over these mili­ tary arsenals. 17. Danilov and Shanin, K V y59-60. 18. Ibid., 60. 19. GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 631,1. 33 (Tambov-Rasskazovo, 3 Sept. 1920), 37 (Tambov-


Notes to Pages 68-72

Morshansk, 5 Sept.), 53 (Borisoglebsk-Tambov, 6 Sept.). 20. GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 631,1.36. 21. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 63. The unit arriving from Tula was insignificant in size (only 67 men with horses), but they did possess two machine guns with some 7,000 bullets. See GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 631,11.28,36. 22. Danilov and Shanin, KV, 59. 23. Raivid here refers to the Second Reserve Cavalry Regiment, w hich was billeted in Kirsanov at the time but was o ff limits to provincial authorities owing to its planned depar­ ture for southern Ukraine. See RGVA f. 235, op. 5, d. 63,1.37. 24. GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 631,11.81. Listed in the document as participating in Kirsanov are: Sevostoianov (chairman o f the uezd soviet executive committee), LudiTshchikov (assis­ tant secretary o f the uezd militia politburo), and Plastun (title unknown). See also an earlier, more civil exchange between Kirsanov and Tambov officials in Danilov and Shanin, KV, 59. 25. Danilov and Shanin, KV, 62. 26. Ibid., 73-74. 27. In his telegram o f 3 September 1920, Shlikhter addressed the Revolutionary-Military Soviet (Rewoensovet) in Moscow as Tambov’s “last resort,” in light o f Orel’s continued silence. See GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 630,1.117. O n the w ork o f provincial governors in the late impe­ rial period, see Richard G. Robbins, The Tsar's Viceroys: Russian Provincial Governors in the Last Years o f the Empire (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987).

28. The 8 September 1920 telegram was addressed to Lenin and to N. P. Briukhanov, in charge o f army and navy provisions. The telegram was composed following a meeting o f Tambov soviet officials, provincial Communist Party authorities, and A. I. Sviderskii, a mem­ ber o f VTsIK en mission in Tambov Province. See Donkov, Antonovshchina, 7-8; Okatov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubem ii , 262-63.

29. Their report is reproduced in Danilov and Shanin, KV, 63-64. 30. The delegates date this change in tactics as February-March 1920. It is unclear why such a change would occur at that time. 31. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 234, 1. 583; S. A. Esikov, “ Tambovskie esery v 1920 godu,” in Obshchestvenno-politicheskaia zhizn ’ rossisskoi provintsii. X X vek> ed. S. A. Esikov (Tambov:

Tambovskii institut khimicheskogo mashinostroeniia, 1993), 40-41. Perhaps surprisingly, provincial soviet and Com m unist Party officials were not able to establish substantively the role o f the PSR in organizing these disruptions until August 1920, two m onths later. See Antonov-Saratovskii, Sovety , 2:445. 32. A Cheka investigation in 1921 claimed that there was another such uezd party confer­ ence in July 1920 in Borisoglebsk, but this is not claimed by the PSR delegates to the party con­ ference in September 1920. See GARF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127,1.4. 33. The genesis o f the “peasant brotherhoods” is described in Viktor M. Chernov, Zapiski sotsialista-revoliutsionnera: knigapervaia (Berlin: Izdatel’stvo Z. I. Grzhebina, 1922), 245-339.

These activities are briefly summarized in Maureen Perrie, The Agrarian Policy o f the Russian Socialist Revolutionary Party: from its origins through the revolution o f 1905-7 (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1976), 23. 34. N. D. Erofeev, ed., Partiia sotsialistov-revolutsionnerov: dokumenty i materialy, 19001925 (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2000), 3 (pt. 2): 637-40. The composition o f the circular appears

Notes to Pages 73-75


to be inspired by local organizations o f the PSR, perhaps in response to the activities o f other socialist opponents o f the Bolsheviks, such as the Left SRs. A published protocol o f the PSR Central Committee has Chernov being instructed to compose the circular in response to ini­ tiatives originating with the PSR organization in the province o f Tver’. See ibid., vol. 3 (pt. 2): 636. There are echoes o f Chernov’s earlier embrace o f the land committees in the autumn o f 1917, which were authorized initially by provincial governments (notably in Tambov) to as­ sume control o f gentry estate properties in the hope o f quelling violence in the countryside. See E. A. Lutskii, “ Krest’ianskoe vosstanie v tambovskoi gubernii v sentiabre 1917g.,” Istoricheskie zapiski 2 (1938): 74. For an analysis that links the origins o f the STKs to the “nonparty

peasant congresses” o f 1919-1920, see A. A. Kurenyshev, Kresfianstvo i ego organizatsii vpervoi treti X X veka (Moscow: Gosudarstvennyi istoricheskii muzei, 2000), 157-61.

35. Marc Jansen, ed., The Socialist Revolutionary Party After 1917: Docum ents from the PSR Achive (Amsterdam: Stichting beheer IISG, 1989), 223-24. See also Vladimir N. Brovkin, B e­ hind the Front Lines o f the Civil War: Political Parties and Social Movements in RussiOy 1918-1922

(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 363-66. 36. O n the intellectual background to this policy, see Oliver H. Radkey, “Chernov and Agrarian Socialism Before 1918,” in Continuity and Change in Russian and Soviet Thought , ed. E. J. Simmons (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1955), 63-80. If the summary o f the conference protocol, found in the published materials from the PSR trial, is accurate, the Tambov delegation was hardly alone among local organizations in pushing for a more radi­ cal party line on armed resistance to the Soviet regime. See ObviniteVnoe zakliucheniepo delu TsentraTnogo komiteta i otdeVnykh chlenov inykh organizatsii Partii sotsialistov-revoliutsionerov: p o obvineniiu ikh v vooruzhennoi bor’be protiv sovetskoi vlasti, organizatsii ubiistv ; vooruzhennykh ograblenii i v izm ennicheskikh snosheniiakh s inostrannymi gosudarstvami (Moscow:

IzdatePstvo VTsIK, 1922), 41. 37. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 63. Later investigations led by Raivid established that PSR members had sent the letter. See Antonov-Saratovskii, Sovety, 2:447-48. Because the actual let­ ter has never resurfaced, it is difficult to evaluate whether Traskovich’s description o f its con­ tent — particularly o f threats against Jews— is accurate. 38. The letter is reproduced in Jansen, Socialist Revolutionary Party , 551-55. 39. PodbePskii, “Vosstanie,” 24-26. 40. In June 1920, Raivid published an article lampooning recent reports o f a LSR plan to initiate a “ Trade Union o f the Toiling Peasantry.” The idea o f this trade union (profsoiuz) for the peasantry predated the notion o f the STKs, and in the original circular relating to the STKs, Chernov noted the LSR idea, instructing local organizations not to discourage them. But the fact that Raivid, in his article, noted the LSR scheme and summarily dismissed it, may indicate the attitude o f local officials in Tambov to other such opposition plans for rural unions. See Izvestiia Tambovskogo gubernskogo soveta rabochikh i kresfianskikh deputatov , no. 129 (12 June 1920), 2; Erofeev, Partiia s.-r., 3 (pt. 2): 640; Kurenyshev, Kresfianstvo i ego organizatsiiy 157-58. The LSR party had undergone a schism o f its own in 1920, and the newspa­

per in which the “trade union” scheme was published, Znam ia truda , represented the more radical faction o f LSRs. The LSRs in Tambov possibly took their cue from this wing o f the party, as it was associated with the LSR Central Regional Committee, which had strong links with other cities in the Blackearth region, such as Voronezh. See “Ko vsem chlenam partii


Notes to Pages 75-77

levykh S-R,” International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam), PSR Collection, folder 859, p. 1. 41. Jan M . Meijer, ed., The Trotsky Papers, 1917-1922 (The Hague: Mouton, 1971), 2:506. See also the comments by G rom ov in Danilov and Shanin, K V , 109. 42. This point is made in Oliver H. Radkey, The Sickle Under the Hammer: The Socialist Revolutionaries in the Early M onths o f Soviet Rule (New York: Colum bia University Press,

1963), 277. According to an October 1920 report prepared by Raivid, the local PSR was hardly in the position to direct a mass insurgency: “SR organizations are not capitalizing on their suc­ cesses among the peasantry because, as has become clear from the statements taken from ar­ rested party members, now in Tambov there are only tens o f PSR members, whereas in the past they numbered in the thousands.” See Antonov-Saratovskii, Sovety, 2:447. 43. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 232,1.357. Note that the letter identifies the Kirsanov PSR organ­ ization having its base in the volost o f Rudovka, in the north o f the uezd, where the distur­ bances had yet to reach. 44. Podbelskii, “Vosstanie,” 24-26. 45. Such “peasant marches” (pokhody) were a traditional feature o f rural resistance in im ­ perial Russia. Often spontaneously mobilized, groups would set o ff for an administrative cen­ ter to voice grievances to government authorities, gaining strength and support en route. Often such episodes would turn violent as armed authorities confronted aggrieved groups o f subjects. The tradition continued into the Soviet period, most notably, relating to the experi­ ence o f Tambov soviet officials in Morshansk uezd during the rural disturbances o f O ctob




November 1918. 46. Podbel’skiis version o f the events in these first days o f the uprising has survived in later narratives o f the Antonov rebellion, most notably in Samoshkin, “Miatezh. Antonovshchina: Protivostoianie,” 18-20. However, there is litde evidence that such a decisive event took place. M. R Beliakov, chairman o f the Tambov uezd soviet executive, mentioned such a pokhod na Tambov originating in Kniazhe Bogoroditskoe, where villagers were rounded up by insur­

gents and ordered at gunpoint to set o ff and attack Tambov. According to Beliakov, this forced march quickly petered out, and the remaining core was easily dispersed by government forces at Koptevo. (If these locations are accurate, then the “march” would have moved eastward rather than north to Tambov city.) Beliakov states that the PSR, as the instigators o f the re­ bellion, nevertheless claimed in the course o f efforts to recruit support for the insurgency that Tambov had already been sacked by the marchers. See Mikhail F. Beliakov, “ Bor’ba s antonovshchinoi,” in Antonovshchina: Statyi, vospominaniia i drugie materialy k istorii eserobanditizma v Tambovskoi gubernii , ed. O. S. Litovskii (Tambov: Biuro Tambovskogo gubist-

parta, 1923), 40. The truth surrounding the so-called march is difficult to extract. W hat is often described in contemporary reports is the spread o f the insurgency from village to vil­ lage and the alarm caused by the insurgency’s growing proximity to the provincial capital. The spread o f the disorders could well have been understood as possessing a greater coherence than was the case. 47. Jansen, Socialist Revolutionary Party , 554. 48. RGVA f. 34228, op. 1, d. 299,11.38-39. 49. The meeting took place near the village o f Treskino. Ivan Ishin was a native o f Kalug-

Notes to Pages 78-85


ino volost. See GATO f. R-4049, op. 1, d. 89,11. 980b, 109-10900. Despite the complicity o f the local soviet leadership, such meetings did not go unnoticed by the uezd and provincial au­ thorities, who were well aware o f Antonov’s activities, believed to be in league with the Whites during their advance toward Moscow in the second half o f 1919. See RGVA f. 827, op. 1, d. 8, 1.336. See also the m ore elaborate accusations included in a Cheka report on Antonov, w rit­

ten at the height o f the insurgency in 1921, in Danilov and Shanin, KV, 156. 50. At the time o f Denikin’s advance on Moscow in 1919 the PSR, as well as other socialist parties (notably the Mensheviks), maintained a reserved support for the Soviet state as it was threatened by the counterrevolution. See Brovkin, B ehind the Front Lines. 51. G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127,11.2,3. 52. The size o f the druzhina was estimated to be 150 men— by no means a small number for a band o f terrorists, as evidenced by an impressive tally o f over 100 government agents murdered during the summer o f 1919. See Samoshkin, “A. S. Antonov,” 70. 53. GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 1395,1.17; Danilov and Shanin, KV, 41. 54. Danilov and Shanin, KV, 41-42. 55. See Okatov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubem iu 227-29; Samoshkin, "A. S. Antonov,” 70-71;

Danilov and Shanin, KV, 34-35. 56. There is little evidence that Antonov had contact with other rebels before the outbreak o f the insurgency in August 1920. Still, one source, a captured “green” from Saratov Province, claims that Antonov had been a source o f arms and munitions for other similar rebels in the extended region. See GATO f. R-5201, op. 1, d. 1040,11.10-13. 57. A report by the Tambov Communist Party to Moscow raised the possibility that Antonov in February 1920 was being urged by native Tambov PSR activists to assume greater ambitions in his defiance o f the Soviet state, even to attack the provincial capital. This is the only men­ tion o f contact between Antonov and these members o f the PSR. See Danilov and Shanin, KV, 41. 58. GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 1018,11.64-65. 59. GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 1018,1. 1170b. 60. GATO f. R-394, op. 1, d. 520,1.73. A n investigation commission found that the rebels distributed literature identifying the leaders o f the Soviet government with the forces o f evil and the coming o f the Antichrist. See GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 1018,1.128. 61. M . S. Maslakov was the senior commander o f the special unit designated by the Tam­ bov Com m unist Party and Cheka organization to hunt down Antonov. 62. GATO f. R-394, op. 1, d. 520,1.73. 63. GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 1018,11.26,157. 64. The Kirsanov militia chief, Maslakov, possibly was drawn to the lakes near Ramza be­ cause they were a known hideout for Antonov. The clash that took place there in April 1920 may have been between government agents and members o f Antonov’s druzhina, in other words, not involving the armed men w ho had incited the uprising in the village o f Ramza. 65. GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 1018,1.157. 66. GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 1018,11.128,157. 67. The phrase “green army” was placed in quotation marks throughout the original source, a report by the Cheka agent, F. A. Sharov. See Danilov and Shanin, KV, 45-46,69. 68. Podbel’skii, “Vosstanie,” 25.


Notes to Pages 85-92

69. Antonov-Saratovskii, Sovety, 2:447-48. 70. Akim ov's testimony is located at RGVA f. 34228, op. 1, d. 299, 11.32-33. A summary based in part on Akimov's testimony is in Danilov and Shanin, K V y205-06. 71. Podbel’skii, “Vosstanie,” 25. 72. RGASPI f. 17, op. 13, d. 1010,11. 47~47ob. 73. RGASPI f. 17, op. 13, d. 1010,11. 460b, 47. The author o f this report is identified only by his surname. 74. Donkov, Antonovshchina , 31. 75. Antonov-Saratovskii, Sovety , 2:448. 76. RGASPI f. 17, op. 13, d. 1010,1.47. 77. This is the conclusion given in the most recent account o f the uprising, in Samoshkin, “Antonovshchina: kanun i nachalo,” 19. 78. GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 631,1.23. 79. RGVA f. 235, op. 1, d. 63,1.114; Danilov and Shanin, KV> 61. 80. Some reports remained only strictly suggestive, such as the statement taken from a local priest in Ponzar' volost (Tambov uezd), who reported that daily, following mass, locals would hold memorial services for fallen “bandits.” See Danilov and Shanin, K V y58-59. 81. Ibid., 61. In the first days o f the uprising, there were reports o f rebels declaring “ Long live Wrangell” (in reference to the White commander, General Petr N. Wrangel) and the like. Such openly counterrevolutionary slogans, while likely to have been voiced, were hardly rep­ resentative o f the insurgency, and such reports o f pro-W hite slogans quickly disappeared within weeks o f the beginning o f the uprising. 82. The first report o f Antonov's involvement appears to be from a 1 September 1920 ex­ change between Tambov (Traskovich) and Kirsanov officials, in which the latter state that Antonov and other familiar local “bandits” were assuming a prominent role in the distur­ bances along the border between Kirsanov and Tambov uezds. The day before this exchange (31 August), Traskovich had informed Red Arm y regional command in Orel o f the uprising, citing the involvement o f “Corporal Boguslavskii, Kazakov, Pluzhnikov, Iurin, the SRs and others.” Aleksandr Antonov is strangely missing from this list, despite the fact that all the oth­ ers were known primarily by their association with Antonov. See GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 631, 1.29; Danilov and Shanin, K V y59.

83. Okatov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi guberniiy263-64 (emphasis in original).

Chapter 4: The Collapse o f Soviet Authority in Tambov 1.

VOKhR had been at the heart o f most government efforts against similar rural rebellions

throughout Soviet territory during the civil war period. The experience formed the basis o f Kornev's summary report on counterinsurgency strategy, “On the Two-and-a-Half Year Strug­ gle with Banditry,” published in late 1920. See RGVA f. 33988, op. 2, d. 306,11.22,23. O n 1 Sep­ tember 1920, Kornev became the head o f a new organization, VN U S, an internal security directorate that incorporated the forces o f the VOKhR. VN U S was relatively short-lived as an autonomous bureaucracy, however, and state and military officials were often slow to adjust to the designation and acronym changes, a cause o f occasional confusion for (at the very

Notes to Pages 92-97


least) the later historian. 2. Iakovlev, Vnutrennie voiska , 514-15. 3. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 197,1.393. 4. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 197, 1.395. Vodkin’s letter was forwarded to Shlikhter in Tambov after being reviewed in Moscow and Orel. Shlikhter did not read the letter until November 1920, when he immediately assigned it to the archive (1.391). 5. O n the tense relationship between central and provincial officials in the realm o f food procurement, see DuGarm , “ Local Politics.” 6. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 65. 7. RGVA f. 33988, op. 2, d. 306,1.8; Danilov and Shanin, K V 65-66. 8. Danilov and Shanin, KV, 66. 9. Samoshkin, "Miatezh. Antonovshchina: Protivostoianie,” 18. 10. GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 631,1.31; Danilov and Shanin, K V , 66. 11. Iakovlev, Vnutrennie voiska , 522-24. 12. Ibid., 524-25. 13. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 70. Other reports claimed that the rebel commander Tokmakov, as well as another, unnamed figure prominent in the conspiracy had been killed in the clashes at Kozmodem’ianskoe. See Berelowitch and Danilov, Sovetskaia derevnia 1:345. 14. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 197,1.578. 15. Antonov-Saratovskii, Sovety , 2:447-48. 16. Ibid., 2:448-49. 17. Samoshkin, “Miatezh. Antonovshchina: Protivostoianie,” 19. Provincial officials in the M ilitary Council were later criticized for permitting the release o f prisoners in early Novem ­ ber 1920 while Red Arm y commanders were simultaneously enforcing collective punishments (such as burning scores o f peasant homes) for rebel villages. See Danilov and Shanin, K V , 8485. 18. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 73. 19. Ibid., 74-75. A man named Nasonov involved in the early organization o f the state re­ sponse to the conflict in Kirsanov wrote in March 1921 o f his experiences in coming face to face with captured bandits: “Here I found myself confronted not with gentry landlords and bankers, but instead I met with poor peasants w ho had risen up against the ‘Com m unist tyrants’ and who had begun to hunt down and kill them. The captured bandits were dressed in simple peasant blouses and were frequently barefoot and emaciated. As I reflected on what could have driven these men to such a state, I was nearly overcome with shame, as I could not help but think that many o f us here were partly to blame.” See ibid., 132. 20. W hen Meshcheriakov, the secretary o f the Tambov provincial soviet executive com ­ mittee, met with Lenin in late September, he presented the following progress report on the procurement campaign: “As concerns the requisition squads, nothing to this day has been forthcoming. No reinforcements have been given. Collection has proceeded at a rate o f 20,22, 25 thousand pood per day, at a time when 200-250 thousand is the target.” Lenin’s response following this briefing represents his first substantive contribution to the drama unfolding in Tambov. His short memo to Sklianskii and Dzerzhinskii read: “ Must take the most drastic measures!! Urgendy!!” See Donkov, Antonovshchina , 10. Soon after this exchange, and evidentiy after reflecting upon the situation in Tambov, Lenin sent a memo to the head o f the


Notes to Pages 97-99

Food Commissariat, Briukhanov, in which he asked whether the 11 million pood razverstka for cereals assigned to Tambov was too high a target. There is no record o f Briukhanov’s reply, or o f any follow-up on this issue by Lenin. 21. B. A. Shlikhter, “Vospominaniia o V. I. Lenine,” Vorposy istorii K P SS 9 (1969), 113. Ko­ rnev reported on 27 September 1920, after personally inspecting affairs in Tambov, that the provincial administration was too preoccupied with the procurement campaign. Despite his conviction that the rebellion was more or less defeated, he was concerned that of the 4,200 sol­ diers available in the province for counterinsurgency operations, only 1,200 actually were in­ volved in those operations. The remainder was either assigned to work in grain procurement (1,400) or general guard duty at railway stations and towns (1,600). In the same report, Ko­ rnev acknowledged that reinforcements would be needed (a single infantry regiment, two infantry squadrons, and an armored unit), but that VNUS was unable to provide such rein­ forcement, given the demands of other ongoing operations. See Iakovlev, Vnutrennie voiska , 524-25. 22. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 233,1.527. 23. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 65. 24. See also GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 197,11.465,466. 25. Uezd officials in Tambov complained that the families o f district soviet personnel and rural Communist Party members suffered terrible material privations, even before the out­ break o f the violence in the autumn. Uezd officials claimed that rural soviet employees, often partially clothed, barefoot, and hungry, were held up as emblematic o f Soviet rule by the ku­ laks, w ho told fellow villagers that supporting the Soviet government and Communist Party could obviously bring no personal or collective benefits if this was the way its faithful servants were forced to live. See GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 228,1.128. 26. TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 824,11. 23-23ob; GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 183,1.843; Danilov and Shanin, K V y64,73-74. 27. In his reminiscences, the one-time Narkomprod representative to Orel Province, N. A. Miliutin, recalled a meeting with Lenin in late 1920 during which they discussed the pro­ curement campaign in Orel and the problem atic reliance upon coercion by requisition squads. Lenin expanded on the use o f force, rather than persuasion and agitation, in grain req­ uisitioning: “D o not make the conclusion from all this that rifles are just for decoration. Strug­ gle is struggle, after all. In the absence o f extreme circumstances, then it is better to carry on like that, but when the situation demands, requisition squads must be firm. Look at Tambov, where grannies are going around disarming squads and handing over the weapons to the bandits. A nd this is going on at our doorstep. The antonovshchina can begin to spread, even all the way to Moscow.” Miliutin was later involved in the suppression o f the antonovshchina in 1921, as representative o f VTsIK in Tambov and Voronezh. See his “Po zadaniiam Lenina,” in Vospominaniia 0 Vladimire IViche Lenine (Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo politicheskoi literatury, 1956-1960), 2:411. 28. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 184,1.460. 29. This was particularly a problem regarding VNUS troops, which were more readily de­ ployed in noncombat roles. In neighboring Voronezh Province, where local authorities sim­ ilarly relied extensively on VNUS troops to quell their own “banditry” problems, the overall

Notes to Pages 99-105


commander in the province (Kaufel’dt) complained about the dislocation and fracture within the forces under his overall command: “ I have learned that commanders o f individual units have absolutely no idea how many men they have or where they are located. A significant number o f the VN U S troops are engaged in provisions work, but the regimental and brigade commanders not only do not know how many o f their men have been given such assignments, they also have no idea where these men have been assigned or for how long they have been gone.” RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 511,11.25-26 (February 1921). 30. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 234,1.951. 31. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 184,11.524-25; Danilov and Shanin, K V , 71. 32. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 184,11.524,798. 33. In Spassk uezd the collections had reached over 122 percent o f targets. See GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 184,1.524. 34. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 181,1.413; GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 184,11. 664-70ob. 35. For examples, see GATO f. R-1236, op. 1, d. 843,11.99-103; Danilov and Shanin, K V , 75. 36. GATO f. R-394, op. 1, d. 541, 11. 3-3ob (telegrams mentioned here not found). Meshcheriakov illustrated his point by assessing the state o f the squads ordered to go into the countryside to requisition grain. Because o f the severe shortage o f firearms, these units (three in all, composed entirely o f Com m unist Party members) were forced to go unarmed, prom pting the Kirsanov provisions commissar to call them “miserable workers” (pechaV rabotniki). Under such conditions, as Meshcheriakov wrote in his report, “Cowards are not

allowed.” For similar comments from the Kirsanov uezd Communist Party chief, see RGVA f. 7, op. 2, d.483,1.1. 37. See the 23 October 1920 telegram issued by Lenin to provincial soviet executive com ­ mittees in grain-producing provinces, reproduced in Danilov and Shanin, K D P , 586. 38. Danilov and Shanin, KV, 77. Aplok vacated the post in Tambov on 16 October, while Redz’ko did not assume the overall command o f forces in Tambov until 25 October. In the interim, the commander in the province was V. I. Blagonadezhdin, a local V N U S brigade commander. 39. Berelowitch and Danilov, Sovetskaia derevnia 1:347; Danilov and Shanin, K D P , 572-74. 40. Danilov and Shanin, K D P , 591-92. 41. G. V. Vedeniapin, “Antonovshchina,” Volga, nos. 5-6 (1997): 222. 42. Danilov and Shanin, K D P , 577,590. 43. Vedeniapin, “Antonovshchina,” 224-26. 44. Danilov and Shanin, K D P , 579. Karpov often refers to Antonov in metonymic terms, meaning insurgents from Tambov, rather than reporting any reliable information regarding Antonov’s personal presence in Chembar’ uezd. 45. Danilov and Shanin, K D P , 574. 46. Similar frustrations were expressed by uezd M ilitary Commissariat officials in Kir­ sanov and were also raised by Shlikhter in communication directly with Lenin in m id-O cto­ ber. See GATO f. R-1889, op. 1, d. 34,1.262. 47. Danilov and Shanin, K D P , 593. 48. RGVA f. 33988, op. 2, d. 306,11.5 ,6 ,7 . 49. Gubcheka: sbornik dokumentov i materialov iz istorii Saratovskoi gubernskoi chrezvy-


Notes to Pages 106-109

chainoi komissii, 1917-1921 gg.y ed. N . I. Shabanov and N. A. Marakov (Saratov: Privolzhskoe

knizhnoe izdatel’stvo, 1980), 155; Vedeniapin, “Antonovshchina,” 224-25; Danilov and Shanin, KDPy 578; Berelowitch and Danilov, Sovetskaia derevnia 1:342. 50. O n the situation in Penza, see GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 234,1.908. 51. Okatov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubem ii, 279-80. 52. See Donkov, Antonovshchina, 41. This estimate o f government losses does not include Communist Party and soviet personnel killed or wounded. Danilov and Shanin, K V y72. A summary o f the activities o f rebels in Kirsanov uezd during the month o f October is provided in ibid., 70-71. 53. Berelowitch and Danilov, Sovetskaia derevnia 1:352,367. 54. Despite early efforts by Aplok to reorganize the system o f supply to government forces, self-provisioning by troops remained a problem for the counterinsurgency effort throughout 1920 and into 1921. As Meshcheriakov put it in his report on affairs in Kirsanov: “ [Our own troops] often conduct themselves worse than do the bandits. They loot whomever they can, pay absolutely no attention to local administration, and effectively erode away what support we enjoy from the local population.” See GATO f. R-394, op. 1, d. 541,11.2-3 (emphasis in orig­ inal). See also GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 19 7, 1. 483; Samoshkin, Antonovskoey 51. D anilov and Shanin, K V y65. 55. GATO f. R-394, op. 1, d. 541,11.2-3. 56. GATO f. R-1889, op. 1, d. 297,11.223,259,318,319,320,321,317,322. 57. GATO f. R-1889, op. 1, d. 34, 1.262. 58. The senior commander in the Orel Military Sector, Skudr, criticized local officials for their failure to address the problem o f desertion on 30 October 1920: “According to the in­ formation available to me, the rounding up o f deserters in the uezds o f your province that are currently consumed by the rebellion (Tambov, Kirsanov, Borisoglebsk) is not being pursued with the necessary commitment. You are reminded that these uezds have always been distin­ guished by the sheer number o f deserters present there. These deserters have now become a sensitive issue for us, for they constitute the principal material for the ‘A N TO N O V ’ band. The success o f our campaign against the bandit ‘Antonov’ depends entirely upon our ability to de­ prive him o f this material— the hardened deserters.” GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 593,1.261. 59. GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 593,11.262,322; Okatov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi guberniiy241. 60. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 234,1.968. The insecurity felt in Borisoglebsk, according to the memoirist Anton Okninskii, prompted municipal officials to take villagers from the sur­ rounding countryside into the town as hostages, as a safeguard against a possible rebel attack on Borisoglebsk. See Okninskii, Dva goda, 309-10. 61. See the resolution passed by a nonparty conference o f garrisoned soldiers in Kirsanov, condemning the conduct o f officials in the Food Commissariat in their pursuit o f the razverstka policy, in Danilov and Shanin, K V y76. A year-end report by the Kirsanov M ilitary C om ­ missariat described near-starvation conditions in the main garrison, killing o ff the cavalry stables and weakening the immune systems and morale o f soldiers. See GATO f. R-1837, op. 1, d. 144,1.287. 62. GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 630,1.123; RGVA f. 7, op. 2, d. 433,1.1. 63. Berelowitch and Danilov, Sovetskaia derevnia 1:367. 64. Ibid., 368.

Notes to Pages 109-121


65. According to the Soviet historian, Trifonov, nearly one-half o f all party and state per­ sonnel in Kirsanov uezd went over to the rebels by early 1921. One o f these, I. V. Belousov, later told Soviet investigators that when he first joined the rebel group led by Tokmakov at Inzhavino in late September 1920 he was not allowed to carry a firearm owing to his previous affiliation. Belousov was eventually allowed to carry a gun after a probation o f some weeks, and he stayed with the rebels for eight months. Such “ traitors” were later condemned by a government in­ spector, reporting in early 1921 to the Revolutionary-Military Council in Moscow, when he al­ luded to “the indiscipline o f our party comrades at the Tambov front, those w ho have sat too long in the localities and grown lazy, those w ho have become infected with purely parochial and, specifically, petit-bourgeois ambitions, those who have thrown away all restraint and sold their souls for short-term gain and comfort.” See RGVA f. 33988, op. 2, d. 646,11.243-44; GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 1683,1.54; I. A. Trifonov, Klassy i klassovaia bor’ba v SSSR v nachale NEPa , 1921-1923 gg. (Leningrad: Leningradskii gosudarstvennyi universitet im. Zhdanova,

1964), 3 7 66. Danilov and Shanin, K V y 68,76; Samoshkin, “Miatezh. Antonovshchina: Protivostoianie,” 19. 67. GATO f. R-5201, op. 1, d. 22,11.6 ,7 ,8 ,2 1. 68. Danilov and Shanin, K V y79. 69. O n the Kazankov episode, see Fatueva, Protivostoianie , 117. 70. Danilov and Shanin, K V y75. 71. Ibid., 91. 72. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 184,1.456. 73. Both the rebels and government troops had to contend with contagious diseases and illnesses, with outbreaks o f cholera, in particular, being reported by military commanders and civilian officials in the countryside. Redz’ko contended that he was losing up to 300 every week due to poor sanitary and material conditions, but outbreaks were notable in other areas that were outside government control. See GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 184, 1. 547; Danilov and Shanin, K V y76 . 74. Danilov and Shanin, K V y77. 75. Ibid. 76. Ibid. 77. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 181,1.220. 78. Landis, “A Civil War Episode,” 20-21. 79. Danilov and Shanin, K V y77-78. 80. The report is reproduced in ibid., 82-85. 81. In Kameron’s words, “Categorical and definitive demands for reinforcements, con­ taining declarations that the province was in flames and that any delays in sending troops would result in the complete destruction o f the province, simply did not arrive from Tambov.” See ibid., 83.

82. Ibid., 86. 83. N. Iliukov, Partizanskoe dvizhenie v Prim ore (1918-1920 gg. ) (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1962); la. S. Pavlov, Narodnaia voina v tylu interventov i belogyardeitsev (Minsk: Belarus’, 1983). On guerrilla warfare and Soviet military doctrine generally, see A. A. Maslov, “Concerning the role o f partisan warfare in Soviet military doctrine o f the 1920s and 1930s,” Journal o f Slavic


Notes to Pages 121-125

M ilitary Studies 9, no. 4 (1996).

84. A broadly similar point, employed differendy, can be found in Donald Raleigh, “Lan­ guages o f Power: How the Saratov Bolsheviks Imagined Their Enemies,” Slavic Review 57, no. 2 (1998). 85. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 81-82. 86. GATO f. R-1832, op. 1, d. 593,11.378-79. In Saratov, provincial officials were evidently prohibited from printing material relating to local rebels, provoking protests by trade union representatives similar to those voiced in Tambov. See Raleigh, Experiencing Russia's C ivil War, 384; Vedeniapin, “Antonovshchina,” 220. Anton Okninskii, before his departure from

Tambov Province in late November 1920, noticed the state o f panic that had beset the towns­ people o f Borisoglebsk. There, too, the situation was aggravated by the municipal adminis­ tration. Even at the vaguest rum or o f an attack by rebels on the town (which Okninskii thought preposterous; it became a reality o f sorts in the new year), municipal authorities would round up innocent civilians believed to have contacts with the surrounding country­ side to use them as hostages in case o f an advance by rebels into the town. See Okninskii, Dva goda , 309-10.

87. RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 409, 1.5. The idea had been raised in Moscow and supported by Sklianskii (o f the Revolutionary Military Council) and Dzerzhinskii (o f VChK) that the Southern Military Command should be relocated from Orel to Voronezh to be nearer the epi­ center o f the growing disturbances in the central agricultural region. Skudr rejected the idea o f relocating to what he termed the “geometric center” o f events, preferring instead to con­ tinue to rely upon the operational authority o f provincial commands while Orel oversaw supply and coordination. See RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 409,1.9.

Chapters: The Partisan Countryside at War 1. Materials o f the Tambov STKs and the Partisan Army exist primarily in digest form com ­ piled by the Tambov Cheka in the spring o f 1921. (For examples, see Danilov and Shanin, K V .) 2. A second version o f the program adds that the equality o f all citizens, mentioned in point 1, did not extend to the “ house o f the Romanovs.” This was not the only copy to con­ tain this added detail, for Antonov-Ovseenko, in a July 1921 report, mentions it in describing the STK program. The significance is difficult to assess, however. The rest o f the program be­ trays no sympathy for the autocracy, and these added words could simply be giving rhetori­ cal emphasis to the insurgents’ leftist credentials. Unaware o f the disparity, Radkey sees the added words as being a hallmark o f Right SR influence, so this copy could have been seized from PSR members. See Danilov and Shanin, K V , 231,293; Radkey, Unknown C ivil War, 71. 3. Other copies o f the program omit the provision o f government credits to small farms and instead speak o f “opening o f extensive government credits to individuals.” This copy o f the program found its way into the hands o f émigré opposition figures and was reproduced in the PSR journal Revolutionary Russia. See the pamphlet “ Kak tambovskie krest’iane boriatsia za svobodu” (1921), HLA N C , box 630, folder 7; Rex Wade, ed., Docum ents o f Soviet H is­ tory (G ulf Breeze FL: Academic International Press, 1993), 2:199; Danilov and Shanin, K V ,


Notes to Pages 126-127


4. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 79-80. 5. The PSR member and Tambov native, Iurii Podbel’skii, in a letter protesting his con­ tinued incarceration by the Cheka in May 1921, pointed to the "ignorant” wording o f the STK program to argue that the PSR could not have been involved in its composition. As illustra­ tion, he referred in particular to the passage cited in note 3 above on providing government credits to individuals. Certainly PodbePskii was correct in that the program was not supplied by the central organization, nor were senior PSR figures involved in its composition. The ar­ rest o f senior PSR members in Tambov in September 1920 deprived the Tambov organization o f whatever close ties it may have had with the M oscow committee. Still, less notable PSR members from Tambov could have been involved, and the PSR could still have been the prin­ cipal source o f inspiration for the document. See Jansen, Socialist Revolutionary Party, 545. For the continued concern o f the PSR central committee for the arrested members o f the Tam­ bov organization, see Erofeev, Partiia s.-r., 746. 6. A list o f eight points was drafted by the Tambov provincial committee o f Left SRs (whose ranks had also been severely depleted by Cheka arrests), but it is unclear as to whether this short document was a work in progress intended as an alternative program for the STK or a draft o f goals worked on separately by the LSRs as part o f a cooperative effort (with the remaining members o f the Tambov PSR) to settle upon a unified political program. Not all points are contained in the final product. Included in the LSR document are: 1. General armed uprising for the overthrow o f the aggressor Communists. 2. Realization o f the law on the socialization o f land. 3. Temporary administration o f the government should be placed with the Revolutionary union of the Committee of the toiling peasantry. 4. The permanent government must be popularly elected on the basis o f equal and direct suffrage o f all the working masses. 5. Freedom o f the press, o f speech, personal liberty (svoboda lichnosti) and freedom o f reli­ gion. 6. Government credit available on a broad and open basis for the improvement o f agricul­ tural production. 7. Government credits widely available for the establishment o f schools, both rural and urban, and for training (kursy) and university studies. 8. Open, public instruction at all educational institutions, allowing for extensive initiative for commercial manufacturing and agricultural production. Signed: Provincial Committee of the Left SRs While there are differences in wording, the spirit o f the LSR list is fairly consistent with the main STK program, but it is not a complete alternative program. It is a separate list, and the fact that it surfaced during the course o f the conflict (quite possibly via Cheka agents who had infiltrated the regional LSR organization) indicates that Left SRs in Tambov felt the need to begin drafting their own points for inclusion in a political program for the insurgency. See Danilov and Shanin, K V , 80. 7. This is an on-balance conclusion, but not without exception. A village declaration in VoFnaia Vershina (Borisoglebsk uezd), contained words about the revolution in Russia being usurped by the “October Counterrevolution,” but in this case the Bolshevik seizure o f power in 1917 was identified explicitly with the loss o f civil liberties. See TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1 , 1.


Notes to Pages 127-129

1112,1.16. Although the slogan “Soviets without Communists!” did not feature as prominently in the insurgency in Tambov as it did in earlier uprisings such as the chapannaia voina in Samara province (March 1919) and the later conflict in western Siberia (1920-1921), the con­ tinued emphasis on the soviets as decentralized democratic institutions was connected with the land and estate seizures o f 1917-1918 that were famously “validated” with the fall o f the Provisional Government. See Danilov and Shanin, K D P y103; V. I. Shishkin, ed., Z a sovety bez kom m unistov: krest’ianskoe vosstanie v Tium enskoi gubernii 1921 g. (Novosibirsk: Sibirskii

khronograf, 2000). 8. Agitational literature used by the rebels regarding the Constituent Assembly was sup­ plied by the PSR. See Danilov and Shanin, K V y 187. In a small example o f how meaning is constructed and ideas are communicated in movements such the Antonov rebellion, one woman questioned by state officials said that the Constituent Assembly had been described to her as a popularly elected body that would, in turn, elect a new “tsar” for Russia. This “tsar” would have a five-year term, after which the people could freely vote to reelect or reject him. This arrangement was explained to her by none other than Aleksandr Antonov himself. See GATO f. R-4049, op. 1, d. 143. 9. O n the experiential background to political claims by insurgents, see Landis, “ Between Village and Kremlin.” 10. O n the relationship between collective actors and ideologies, see Roger V. Gould, In ­ surgentidentities: Class, Community, and Protest in Paris from 1848 to the Com m une (Chicago:

University o f Chicago Press, 1995), 15-16. 11. Kamenka was the confirmed location for both the provincial and Tambov uezd STK committees. Unfortunately, the uezd committees for Borisoglebsk and Kirsanov are not iden­ tified in the available materials. Judging by the activities and movements o f the Partisan Army, however, as well as by the first volost and village STKs to be organized in January, one may assume that the STK committees for these two uezds were located in the southwest o f Kir­ sanov uezd and the north o f Borisoglebsk. It is also possible that the committees in Kirsanov and Borisoglebsk, unlike their counterpart in Tambov uezd, were not able to secure an es­ tablished base and were forced to move from village to village in 1921. 12. There were no STKs, to my knowledge, that had a wom an either elected or appointed to membership. While there are not records for all committees formed during the insurgency, the membership appears to be uniformly male. 13. One villager from Krasivka volost (Tambov uezd) told government investigators in April 1921 that his village had received rebel groups throughout the autumn o f 1920, but his community was not asked to join the insurgency with the organization o f an STK until Jan­ uary 1921. See GATO, f. R-1979, op. 1, d. 1090.1.436. A similar case is noted in G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127, 11. 46-46ob. As one might expect, there was no true uniformity to those com ­ mittees that existed before the issuance o f STK instructions in January 1921. In Treskino volost, at the heart o f the insurgency, the future volost STK chairman stated that before 1921, the volost had only known the organization o f “defense headquarters” that would dissolve peri­ odically when Red Arm y forces took up positions in Treskino. See GATO f. R-4049, op. 1, d. 89,1.110. 14. According to a summary o f activities o f the First Kamenka regiment by Cheka inves-

Notes to Pages 129-130


tigators: Agitation was carried out in the following way: upon the arrival o f a rebel regiment in a given village, volost, or hamlet, the political workers and agitators of the regiment would call for a gathering of citizens at which they would make speeches on the inspiration and goals of the par­ tisans as members o f a voluntary army, and they would call the citizens to maintain order and calm and to give every assistance to the partisans and to actively join their ranks. In addition, the agitators would read out the STK program, their propaganda declarations, and so on, even posting copies o f these materials for people to read throughout the village or volost. At the same time, they would attempt to organize a local committee of the Union o f the Toiling Peas­ antry, if one did not already exist in that locality. See G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127,1.46. 15. Such reluctance greeted STK agitators in the village o f Mokhrovka (Borisoglebsk uezd), which was explained to the agitators with reference to the reprisals villagers had suffered fol­ lowing a small uprising in 1919 in the volost. This initial approach by the STK was made on 3 January 1921. However, some days later, the villagers overcame their reluctance and invited the STK activists back to their village. A similar story was described for the nearby village o f Alebukhi: On 1 January 1921, during a two-hour stop in Alebukhi, the citizens o f the village were called to a general assembly, but despite the church bell being rung to call people out of their homes, only thirty people at most showed up, and the meeting was postponed until the following day. At a later meeting with some of the villagers, it became clear [to STK organizers] that the villagers, despite their clear opposition to Soviet power and sympathy for the uprising o f the peasants, were fearful o f openly supporting the rebels, as they remembered all too clearly the uprising of the greens in 1919 and how the Soviet government severely punished the rebels. But in private meetings [with the STK organizers], the citizens expressed confidence that on the next day everyone would show up for an assembly to finally agree to the creation o f their own [STK] organization. See G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127,1. 460b; TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 1112,1.38. 16. G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127,1.75. 17. TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 1110,1.174. Likewise, among local STK documents o f this type, there are only two references to the PSR. In one, a rebel unit formed under the auspices o f the STK in Zolotovka volost (Kirsanov uezd) initially named itself the Partisan Unit o f the Party o f Socialist Revolutionaries, a designation that was dropped once the rebels were formally integrated into the Partisan Arm y structure. See TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 1112,1.109; also see Danilov and Shanin, K V , 199. 18. The size o f the assembly depended on the size o f the village or the density o f settlements in a given area. Assemblies could be o f a single village community, one commune within a larger village, or o f several small villages in close proximity. Numbers could range from a few dozen to over 1,000, and these figures were often recorded in the protocols o f these organi­ zational meetings. Weather must have exercised some influence, as most STKs were formed in the winter o f 1920-1921, inhibiting mass gatherings outdoors. STK records reviewed by the Cheka do not describe the venue for organizational meetings. 19. TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 1110,1.93. Comparable wording is found in the declaration o f Griaznovskie Dvoriki (VasiTevka volost, Tambov uezd). See Danilov and Shanin, K V , 200.


Notes to Pages 130-133

20. The focus on the “toiling peasantry” was not entirely exclusive in the sense o f class identity. O ne early such STK declaration proclaimed “ Long live the Union o f workers and peasants!” See D anilov and Shanin, K V , 207. All other indications are that the insurgents sought to cultivate a broad class identity based on the “working people” as a whole. 21. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 126. 22. During the first weeks o f the rebellion, the crude nature o f the rebels was emphasized both in their alleged support for the W hite commander, Wrangels, but also calls such as “Down with the Jew-Communists.” See Danilov and Shanin, K D P . 23. An anecdotal reference to such a case is provided in Vedeniapin, “Antonovshchina,” 225. 24. In one town, Kirsanov, with a sizable number o f Jewish families, government officials were more worried about the anti-Semitic sentiment among Red Arm y soldiers stationed there than among the civilian population. See RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 217,1. 1720b (September 1920). 25. GATO f. R-1979, op. 1, d. 1090,11.32-37. These materials relate to an investigation into the incident by government officials, who were interested to learn if the Jewish families were arrested by the Partisan Army, rather than evacuated to a safe place. The fact that all members o f the fam­ ilies in question were still alive, and all swore to the honorable intentions o f their fellow com ­ munity members, made these investigations a dead end for government officials in 1921. 26. There are only a few anti-Semitic references in the surviving examples o f pro-Antonov verse composed during the insurgency. See Danilov and Shanin, KV, 293-95. Even the less guarded language o f rebel internal correspondence appears to be fairly dean o f anti-Semitism. (An example can be found in Danilov and Shanin, K V , 99.) One letter, written by a villager from Borisoglebsk uezd to a Partisan Arm y regiment commander, referring to the abusive activities o f “Jew-Communists,” is remarkable for its uniqueness, but this did not prevent Cheka investigators from holding it up as typical. See G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 112,1.17. 27. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 201. W hile “comrade” was generally used to describe fellow partisans and supporters o f the insurgency, it was also fairly consistently used to designate cer­ tain activists within the STK and Partisan Army, while others were not. It is likely that, where possible, rebel activists who were also members o f the PSR were graced w ith this tide, while those w ho were not PSR members were simply recorded by their surnames. This would be parallel to the Bolsheviks’ strict use o f the title “comrade” to designate full party membership in official records, such as protocols o f meetings. 28. Village o f Malyi Burnachek (Tambov uezd). See TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1. d. 1110,1.94. 29. GATO f. R-1979, op. 1, d. 1090,11.108,151, 221, 230, 241-43; Danilov and Shanin, K V , 200. It is difficult to gauge how widespread this practice o f gathering signatures had been. In many later interrogations o f villagers in places occupied by the Red Army, people often insisted that they had never signed any documents supporting the formation o f their local STK committee. 30. There were instructions regarding membership in the STK as a public organization similar to those regulating membership in a political party or union, but they emerged at a time when rebel political leaders had high hopes for the STK developing into a larger social movement in line with the original conception o f the PSR Central Committee outlined in its 13 May 1920 circular letter. The actual functioning o f the STK in Tambov in 1920-1921 was something entirely different, and membership criteria were much more pragmatic when it

Notes to Pages 133-134


came to the selection for posts in the local committees. See Danilov and Shanin, K V , 95-96. 31. GATO f. R-1979, op. 1, d. 1090,11.251,439. One church psalmist from the village o f Gromushka (Tambov uezd) stated that he was selected for membership in the local STK because he could read and write, and his professed involvement was restricted to reading STK prop­ aganda and correspondence to members o f the committee and community at large and tak­ ing minutes at STK meetings. See GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 1690,1.43. 32. GATO f. R-1979, o p - d . 1090,11.59,194,230. 33. Emphasis added. See GATO f. R-1979, op. 1, d. 1090,11. 6o-6oob, 124,442. In other STK documents pertaining to the appointment o f committee members, the element o f volun­ tarism was specified. See Danilov and Shanin, K V , 201. 34. A report to the Tenth Tambov Party Conference in January 1921 stated, perhaps with some exaggeration, that nearly 1,000 party members had been killed since the start o f the in­ surgency. See RGASPI f. 17, op.13, d. 1005,11.39-45. 35. A typical statement comes from the village o f Chernavka (Tokarevka volost, Tambov uezd): I, [Egor VasiTevich] Klinkov, served for nearly three years as the chairman o f the local so­ viet in Chernavka, and on 11 January [1921] the bandits appeared in our village from Pavlovka [a neighboring village to the southeast], led by Vasilii Kirilov Mistratov [sic], and they de­ manded from me as the soviet chairman for all the Communists to be handed over, but I said that there were no Communists in our village, and so they then took from us all our horses and left, after which bandit scouts returned to Chernavko almost daily, demanding from me fod­ der for their horses and food for themselves, which I was forced to give against my will. Then on 8 January [sic— 18 January?] three bandits from Pavloka came into our village— their names were Iurii, Vasilii, and Mikhail, I don’t recall the surnames— and they demanded that we come out for a general assembly in order to choose a chairman [of the village STK], and at the as­ sembly the local citizens demanded that I, as the senior chairman [of the soviet], be appointed chairman of the committee, and up until the arrival o f the Reds, nearly four months later, I served as chairman o f the bandit committee. See GATO f. R-1979, op. 1, d. 1090,1.59. 36. Suspicion o f Communist Party members remained strong, however. One group o f vil­ lagers in Petrovskoe (Tambov uezd) appealed to the Partisan Arm y to protect their former soviet chairman: “O ur former village soviet chairman, Nikita Timofeevich Zakhatov, has the full backing o f the members o f our community, and he has never done anything bad for the local population and as can be seen from his documents he has always been nonparty.” See TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 1110,1.132. 37. TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 1112,1.94. On the dynamics o f rebellions in small com m uni­ ties, and particularly the role o f intervillage agitators, see Roger Peterson, “A Com m unityBased Theory o f Rebellion,” European Journal o f Sociology 34 (1998). 38. TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 1110,11.84,108,110; GATO f. R-1979, op.i> d- 1090,11.1129,130. The Partisan Arm y also contained units that appeared to specialize in such acts o f sabotage, particularly in areas near significant railway stations, such as Tokarevka. See G A RF f. R- 8415, op. 1, d. 127,11.55~56ob, 93. 39. Instructions to the newly created STK in Mozhaika (Tambov uezd) are an example o f the comprehensive destruction sought by rebel leaders, calling on citizens “to spread out along the rail line with horse-drawn carts, pull up and remove the rails and ties to a far distance from


Notes to Pages 134-138

the line. The workers at the station [Rzhaksa] are to be informed that they have two days to leave their posts. Bridges should be burned. Spare rails, ties, points, and switch rails kept at the stations and warehouses should be removed. Warehouses, stations, water tanks, and reser­ voirs should be either burned or disabled.” See TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 1110,1.108. 40. For a differing interpretation o f this characteristic o f the STKs, see S. A. Esikov and V. V. Kanishchev, ‘“Antonovskii NEP’ (Organizatsiia i deiaternost’ ‘Soiza trudovogo krest’ianstva’ Tambovskoi gubernii, 1920-1921),” Otechestvennaia istoriia 4 (1993). 41. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 80-81. According to STK instructions, the regional com m it­ tees were to have a militia force o f ten men under their authority, and district committees were to have five men. 42. On the tsarist-era militias and police force, see Stephen Frank, Crime , Cultural Confl­ ict, and Justice in Rural Russia , 1856-1914 (Berkeley: University o f California Press, 1999).

43. TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 1110,11.56,76. 44. GATO f. R-1979, op. 1, d. 1090,11.59,194. 45. TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 1112,1.106. 46. O n rebel scouting, see the official Partisan Arm y instruction, dated 21 February 1921, at G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127,11. 25-26ob. 47. G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127,1. 50b; G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 124,1.2. 48. G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 112,1.2; G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127,1.6; GATO f. R-4049, op. 1, d. 89,1.35. 49. Vedeniapin,“Antonovshchina,” 223-24. For a similar contemporary assessment o f rebel “spying,” see Danilov and Shanin, KV, 155-56. 50. Vedeniapin, “Antonovshchina,” 241. 51. G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 124,1.24. Another example is provided by the case o f a woman, visiting the village o f Kochetovka with her young son, looking for a cobbler who could pro­ vide the boy with shoes. She was soon arrested by local government officials who suspected her o f spying for the rebels because she asked many questions o f locals. As the woman ex­ plained to investigators, she was only trying to learn where the cobbler lived. Statements were taken from the cobbler and the boy regarding the case, which was eventually dropped. See GATO f. R-1979, op. 1, d. 1090,1.235. 52. G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127,11. 370b, 450b, 740b. 53. Danilov and Shanin, KV, 215-16. 54. This was a typical excuse for young men being investigated for possible involvement in the insurgency. If a man was o f Red Arm y service age and claimed not to have participated in the rebellion, then he was immediately suspected o f being a deserter if he lacked the proper exemption documents. However, several STK members admitted confiscating and destroy­ ing such documents. See GATO f. R-1979, op* 1, d. 1090,11.200,211,212,326,340,431. 55. Danilov and Shanin, KV, 202. The fluidity o f such groups also complicated the efforts o f Cheka investigators to form an accurate portrait o f the Partisan Arm y structure and com ­ position in the summer o f 1921. See, for example, G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127,1.63. 56. In all, Cheka investigators identified over twenty-one separate Partisan A rm y regi­ ments following analysis o f captured rebel documents. See RGVA f. 633, op. 1, d. 129,11.1-12; RGVA f. 7709, op. 1, d. 232,1.56; Samoshkin, Antonovskoe, 65-66,115-16. 57. G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127, 1.76. The mobilization o f former officers was evidently

Notes to Pages 138-140


in accord with Order no. 78 o f the First Partisan Army, 14 January 1921. A t the Tambov uezd STK Congress on 5 February 1921, one o f the issues on the agenda was the formation o f new units composed o f veterans o f World War 1 and the Russo-Japanese War. See Danilov and Shanin, K V y201,203. Comparing the mobilization o f former officers by the Partisan Arm y to the same measure introduced by the Red Arm y is not to say that former officers did not join the rebels out o f a well-honed hatred o f the Communist regime. But joining was not a reflex response to the insurgency. Mokarev relates the story o f one former tsarist officer discovered near the village o f Treskino, at the heart o f the rebellion. This particular man was found liv­ ing in a small bunker near the village, where he had been intent on avoiding contact with both the Red Arm y and Partisan Army. He had been living in this bunker for six months be­ fore Red Arm y cadets discovered him in the summer o f 1921. See V. Mokarev, “Kursantskii spor na bor’be s antonovshchinoi,” Voina i revoliutsiia , no. 1 (1932): 74. Others went to great lengths to avoid service in both armies. For example, see RGVA f. 235, op. 2, d. 335,1.27. 58. Partisan Army regiments, in some cases, kept records o f the military experience o f rebel soldiers, especially those who had been officers or had served in the tsarist army. Contrary to Soviet-era contentions, there is no indication that the keeping o f such records was informed by considerations o f political reliability. See G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127,1.77. 59. Danilov and Shanin, KV> 81; Hagen, Soldiers , 129. Later assessments estimated that the number o f Red Arm y men who subsequently joined rebel forces at the turn o f the New Year approached 4,000. RGASPI f. 17, op. 13, d. 1010,1.29. The prominence o f demobilized soldiers in the Partisan Arm y was confirmed in the course o f amnesties conducted in the spring and summer o f 1921. See GATO f. R-1979, op. 1, d. 1090,11. 353-54» 357-58,365-66,369-71 and passim . 60. GATO f. R-4049, op. 1, d. 8 9 , 11. 980b, 114. In one curious incident in January 1921, recorded in seized Partisan Arm y materials, a rail convoy o f demobilized Red Arm y service­ men (identified as former soldiers o f Admiral Kolchak’s army in Siberia, who surrendered in 1919 and joined the Red Army) were held up Zherdevka station by Partisan Arm y forces. They claimed to know nothing o f the insurgency in Tambov, and they expressed their desire to continue on their way rather than join the rebellion. Despite reports that the soldiers were in­ clined to fraternize with the rebels, they instead asked the rebels to guarantee their safety as they passed through Tambov Province, promising that they would never participate in Red Army counterinsurgency operations, in Tambov or elsewhere. However, all the cars o f Red Army servicemen left Zherdevka except one, whose passengers were assumed to have agreed to join the rebels. See G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 1127,11. 66ob-67. In a January 1921 protocol o f the provincial STK, one member (Cherkasov) reports on fears that such convoys o f demobilized Red Arm y servicemen were being stopped in Tambov by local officials in order to organize and equip them for participation in the counterinsurgency efforts. See Danilov and Shanin, K V y96-97.

61. GATO f. R-4049, op. 1, d. 89, 11.71-72. 62. The STKs were also charged with making sure that young men in the villages did not fall into the hands o f the Red Army. W hen advance warning was received o f an approaching Red Arm y unit, a local STK was to organize the evacuation o f all young men o f service age to nearby rebel villages. See TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 1110,1.65. 63. This assistance to the families o f Partisan Arm y soldiers included the continuation o f welfare provision to the families o f rebels w ho had died in action. See TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1,


Notes to Pages 140-145

d. 1110,11. 8i, 159; GATO f. R-4049, op. 1, d. 89,1.114. O n the recovery o f previously confiscated property, see TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 1112,1.72 (Tugolukovka STK, Borisoglebsk). 64. TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 1112,11.36,74. A practice that did not favor particular house­ holds was the recovery o f property confiscated by government agents as punishment for non­ fulfillment o f the razverstka. In one case described in rebel documents (Tugolukovka volost, Borisoglebsk uezd), the local STK accepted applications from individual households, in which confiscated items were listed, and these items would then be returned to their owners if and when they were recovered from government storage points seized by the Partisan Army. See TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 1112,1.75. 65. TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 1110,1.159; Danilov and Shanin, K V , 203,211. 66. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 81. There were even ideas o f holding congresses o f millers, meat curers, dairy producers, and so on to coordinate production and supply in the rebel zone. It is unknown as to whether these ideas were brought to life. See ibid., 99. 67. GATO f. R-1979, op. 1, d. 1090,1.59; Danilov and Shanin, K V , 199. 68. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 215. 69. RGVA f. 235, op. 5, d. 136,11. 39~39ob. 70. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 97. 71. See the words o f Fedor Podkhvatilin, w ho worked both in the STK organization and with the Partisan Arm y as a political agitator, in ibid., 194. This is a common problem for all armed forces involved in insurgency situations and occupations. A close comparison for the situation in Tambov is that provided by the chapannaia voina in the Volga region in 1919, whose leaders issued similar appeals to insurgents discouraging “banditry.” See ibid., 107. Another example o f insurgents struggling to contain banditry is provided by the army under Emiliano Zapata in the Mexican civil war. See Samuel Brunk, “ ‘The Sad Situation o f Civilians and Soliders’: The Banditry o f Zapatismo in the Mexican Revolution,” American Historical Re­ view 101, no. 2 (1996). For the counterinsurgency aspects o f the same problem generally, see

Anthony James Joes, Resisting Rebellion: The History and Politics o f Counterinsurgency (Lex­ ington: University Press o f Kentucky, 2004). 72. Danilov and Shanin, K V, 86. 73. G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127,11.21-22. 74. A . Kazakov, Partiia sotsialistov-revoliutsionerov v Tambovskom vosstanii 1920-21 gg. (Moscow: [s.n.],i922). 75. In one case o f sustained criminal activity by a Partisan Arm y brigade, the three senior members o f the brigade were tried and punished after villagers petitioned army headquar­ ters about the black market trading being controlled by the brigade in their area. The two most senior brigade members received death sentences, while a third was punished by fifty lashes, with a threat o f execution upon a repeat violation. See G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127,1. 390b. 76. GATO f. R-1979, op. 1, d. 8 9 , 11.143-44. This banner was kept by A ntonov’s “ Special Regiment.” 77. According to one contemporary, the rebel army maintained at one time “an entire orchestra” to accompany their renditions o f the “ International.” See Sergei Semenovich Pomazov, “ Bor’ba za vlast’ Sovetov v byvshem Kirsanovskom uezde” (Internet site), www.

Notes to Pages 145-153

325 [accessed 18 September 2006]. Also Pavel VasiTevich Romanov, “Vospominaniia” (Internet site), memory.romanov [accessed 18 September 2006] ; Vladimir V. Samoshkin, “Miatezh. Antonovshchina: K o n e t s Literaturnaia Rossiia, 30 November 1990,18. Reports o f Antonov and his men adorning their “ uniforms” with red ribbons emerged in the first weeks o f the conflict in 1920. See Danilov and Shanin, K V y69-70. 78. G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127,1.46. 79. RGVA f. 34228, op. 1, d. 49, 1.470. 80. Red Arm y servicemen who had been held prisoner by the Partisan Arm y later told in­ vestigators that Antonov carried two Nagan system revolvers. This may have been the case in January 1921, when the men were held prisoner, but these were not the m onogram m ed weapons allegedly found in the possession o f the Antonovs when they were eventually hunted down and killed in 1922. See RGVA f. 235, op. 5, d. 136,1.30. 81. GATO f. R-4049, op. 1, d. 89,11.143-44. 82. Pomazov, “ Bor’ba za vlast’.” Samoshkin describes Antonov's “Special Regiment” as wearing fairly elaborate uniforms— complete w ith black leather coats, red breeches and red service caps— as well as being distinctively professional and disciplined in their conduct. See Vladim ir V. Samoshkin, “ Slovo o krasnykh kursantakh,” Pod’em 10 (1987): 123. 83. Tatiana A. Liapina, “ Ispoved' v podvale GubChK,” Posleslovie 6 (1993): 3. 84. GATO f. R-4049, op. 1, d. 198, 1. 1410b. Despite his desire to make Drigo-Drigina his “wife,” Tokmakov too kept several lovers during his time as a rebel commander. GATO f. R-4049, op. 1, d. 89, 1.178. 85. RGVA f. 235, op. 5, d. 136,1.13; GATO R-1979, op.i, d. 1090,1.282. 86. G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127,1.66. 87. Vedeniapin, “Antonovshchina,” 245-46. Vedeniapin describes how such words were effective, particularly, in feeding the misgivings o f Red Arm y soldiers. He and his colleagues in the Cheka in Saratov had to convince soldiers that the claims o f the insurgents were a complete falsehood, and that anti-Soviet rebellions were confined to Tambov Province. See Vedeniapin, "Antonovshchina,” 238. 88. Danilov and Shanin, K V y142. 89. TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 1112,1.49. 90. GATO f. R-5201, op. 2, d. 2558,1.48. 91. See Erik-C. Landis, “Waiting for Makhno: Legitimacy and Context in a Russian Peas­ ant War,” Past and Present 183 (2004). 92. GATO f. R-4049, op. 1, d. 198,1. i4 i-i4 io b . 93. See G A RF f. 8415, op. 1, d. 127,1.46; RGVA f. 235, op. 5, d. 136,1.39.

Chapter 6: Claiming the Initiative 1. Danilov and Shanin, K V y86. 2. Ibid., 103. 3. Ibid.


Notes to Pages 153-155

4. M. N. Tukhachevskii,“Bor’ba s kontrrevoliutsionnymi vosstaniiam i” Voina i revoliutsiiayno. 8 (1926): 5.

5. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 85,86. 6. The forces deployed to Tambov in January included: the Fifteenth (Siberian) Cavalry Division, the Tenth (Briansk) Rifle Brigade, one infantry brigade from Samara, three armored train groups, and three motorized armored units. Although VN U S and reserve troops had proven unreliable in the final months o f 1920, the January deployments to Tambov included many units to replace those that had been composed principally o f Tambov natives. See RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 511,11.4,21; Iakovlev, Vnutrennie voiska , 574-77; Danilov and Shanin, K V , 103, 306-07; I. Ia. Trifonov, “Iz istorii pazgroma antonovshchiny v 1920-1921 godakh,” Voennoistoricheskii zhurnal 9 (1968): 30.

7. Initially, four sectors were established, dividing up the territory o f the insurgency in three uezds, Kirsanov, Tambov, and Borisoglebsk. The First and Fourth Sectors were based in Kirsanov and Borisoglebsk towns, respectively, while the Third was situated at the rail­ way station at Zherdevka (by the end o f January it was moved to another railway station at Mordovo). The Second Sector headquarters had no fixed location at first, but its area o f opera­ tions covered the area o f Tambov uezd immediately south and east o f the provincial capital. 8. Hagen, Soldiers , 129. 9. In particular, m inor railway stations were often defended only by Labor Arm y groups, and not by relatively well-trained VN U S or regular Red Arm y troops. According to an offi­ cial attached to such a labor unit in Borisoglebsk uezd: “ The rebel bands and local popula­ tion can see how weak we are, and they also continue to suffer the depredations o f the requisition brigades, and this not only strengthens the morale o f the bandits, it also increases their numbers in real terms, as more and more o f the local population are drawn into their ranks.” See RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 371, 11.213-2130^ RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 511,1.13. 10. O n 19 January 1921, largely to compensate for the ongoing demobilization o f the Red Army, the armed internal security forces o f VN U S were transferred (with some exceptions) to the War Commissariat and placed under Red Arm y command. VN U S was dissolved and an internal security directorate was created under the auspices o f the Red Arm y Glavkom. 11. Samoshkin, “Slovo o krasnykh kursantakh,” 121; Trifonov, “Iz istorii razgroma,” 30. For an example, see the letter sent by party officials in Borisoglebsk to the Central Committee, 28 December 1920: “ It is left for us here to repeat that local forces are not sufficient to liquidate the banditry problem, and, given the circumstances, just sending firearms will not suffice__ We must again emphasize to you that the situation is extremely serious not only in Borisoglebsk, but throughout the republic, and the uezd party committee requests that the Central C om ­ mittee pay serious attention to the urgent need to take decisive measures, particularly the de­ ployment o f regular Red Arm y troops, especially cavalry and a variety o f others weapons, to Borisoglebsk and generally to Tambov Province.” Quoted in Donkov, Antonovshchina , 46-47. 12. Unlike Red Arm y documents, STK records date the assault on Borisoglebsk as 16 Jan­ uary 1921. TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 1112,1.48; Samoshkin, “ Slovo o krasnykh kursantakh,” 121; Vladimir V. Samoshkin, “Bronepoezd no. 121,” Zherdevskie novosti, 3 February 1996,2. On the day the regiment o f the Partisan Arm y attempted to storm Borisoglebsk, the armored train group “no. 121” sent to defend the town came under attack near the station at Rymarevo, to the north. W ith the rail lines sabotaged in both directions, the thirty-nine Red Arm y soldiers

Notes to Pages 156-160


on the armored train held out for a staggering twelve days under regular gunfire from rebels before Red Arm y troops arrived on 4 February to dispel them. 13. As a Kirsanov Communist Party member wrote: “ I can still recall terrible, horrifying images from that time. Often our comrades were carried back to Kirsanov missing heads, with the chest or spine slashed, the eyes or ears removed, sometimes completely dismem­ bered.” See L. G. Protasov, ed., Stranitsy istorii Tambovskogo kraia (Voronezh: Tsentral’noeChernozemnoe knizhnoe izdatel’stvo, 1986), 143. See also a Kiranov party report to the Central Committee in Moscow, quoted in Donkov, Antonovshchina, 46. 14. The overall fulfillment o f the procurement target was well above the national average, but this was achieved only after the target for Tambov was revised in early 1921 and reduced by nearly half. See Chernykh, “RoP gubernii,” 171. 15. The conflict between Food Commissariat officials and other state and party authori­ ties was most pronounced in Kozlov, Morshansk, and Shatsk. See RGASPI f. 17, op. 13, d. 1000, 11.5 . 32 16. GATO f. R-18, op. 1, d. 62,11.82-84,93-96. In Kirsanov uezd, all food distribution to the civilian population (except for state orphanages) ceased on 20 January 1921. See Donkov, Antonovshchina , 52.

17. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 293,11.89,210,211,268. The officials in the Morshansk Soviet ad­ ministration responsible for this practice were eventually arrested. 18. Desertion from Red Arm y units in Tambov accounted for the loss o f 8,362 men in Jan­ uary and February 1921, but it is not clear what proportion deserted from nonactive reserve garrisons. Samoshkin, Antonovskoe, 77. 19. GATO f. R-18, op. 1, d. 62,11.94,102—1020b. O n this point, see Peter Bearman, “Desertion as Localism: Army Solidarity and Group Norms in the US Civil War,” Social Forces 70, no. 2 (1991). 20. GATO f. R-18, op. 1, d. 62,1.91. 21. G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 124,1.124. 22. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 317,1.1. Like officials in Kirsanov, those in Borisoglebsk had first made a display o f their decision to send representatives in December 1920 directly to Moscow, bypassing the provincial administration in Tambov. See also Danilov and Shanin, K V , 131. 23. RGASPI f. 17, op. 13, d. 1000,1.2. 24. It was only at the end o f November 1920 that the Tambov Communist Party resolved to begin publication o f a satirical wall newspaper entitled “ The Truth about the Bandits,” ac­ companied by other publications, such as another wall newspaper produced for government troops engaged in the counterinsurgency effort. However, in the estimation o f the Tambov ROSTA chief, Evgenev, these limited efforts were not an effort at “mass agitation” to rival that undertaken by the Partisan Arm y and the STK. See G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 110,1.7; Danilov and Shanin, K V, 78; A. Nabokin, “Vintovkoi i slovom,” in ParoV — muzhestvo. Ocherki 0 tambovskikh chekistakh , ed. G. D. Remizov (Voronezh: TsentraPnoe-chernozemnoe knizhnoe

izdateFstvo, 1986), 101. 25. A 17 January 1921 order established joint control by the Tambov military command and the Food Commissariat over procurement efforts in Kirsanov, Borisoglebsk, and Tam­ bov uezds. See f. R-i, op. 1. d. 293,1.34. 26. S. A. Esikov, “Rukovodstvo Tambovskikh bolshevikov v 1920-nachale 1921g. (Kachestvennaia kharakteristika),” in Obshchestvenno-politicheskaia zhizti’ rossiiskoi provintsiiX Xvek


Notes to Pages 161-165

(Tambov: Tambovskii Gosudarstvennyi Tekhnicheskii Universitet, 1996), 59. 27. See Landis, “A Civil War Episode.“ 28. RGASPI f. 17, op. 13, d. 1005,1.139. While Skhlikhter and Meshcheriakov arrived in Tambov at different times in M ay and July 1920, respectively, the two had worked closely to­ gether in Ukraine in 1919, where Shlikhter was food commissar and Meshcheriakov com ­ missar for land affairs. 29. W illiam Chase, Workers, Society and the Soviet State: Labor and Life in Moscow, 19181929 (Urbana and Chicago: University o f Illinois Press, 1987), 52-53.

30. Kanishchev and Meshcheriakov, Anatom iia, 27. 31. V I. Lenin i A . V Lunacharskii. Perepiska, doklady, dokum enty (Moscow: Nauka, 1971), 482. 32. A later memorandum written by an unidentified Cheka agent described VasiTev as an “insufferable intriguer” w ho preferred positions in which he had maximum influence with minimum responsibility, concluding that VasiTev was “an entirely dangerous, yet well-mannered and talented, demagogue.” See Esikov, “ Rukovodstvo,” 60. 33. V. I. Lenin i A . V. Lunacharskii , 484. 34. Ibid. 35. Lunarcharsky addressed the Seventh Congress on 1 February 1921. See O katov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubem ii , 296.

36. See, for example, D anilov and Shanin, K V , 111. O n Meshcheriakov, see Grigorii Orlovskii, “Kak delà v tambovskoi gubem ii?”: sbom ik ocherkov (Voronezh: TsentraTnoe chernozemnoe knizhnoe izd., 1974), 128-35. 37. Pavlov is quoted by Lunacharsky as stating: “Up to this moment, [the campaign] has been conducted with a certain measure o f indifference, as in power we have people who are not entirely capable o f performing their duties, people I fear who are extremely petty and who are nevertheless in charge o f a rich and very complex province.” See V. I. Lenin iA . V. Lunacharskii, 484. 38. Shlikhter had approached Commander Pavlov about imposing more centralized lead­ ership in the province. He later wrote to S. S. Kamenev at Red Arm y headquarters in Moscow: “In Tambov there is such a feud taking place between the party and the soviet executive com ­ mittee that I may be forced to intervene m yself in order to settle the dispute. Com rade Shlikhter visited recently and pleaded with me to help save the situation, to help save the party. The suppression o f the insurgency can only be achieved with the cooperation o f the party, but at present there is no such cooperation. I have spoken with Lunacharsky, and with [L.?] Kamenev, and they share m y evaluation o f the situation. Therefore. . . I ask for your ad­ vice: is it not time for us to apply a strong military hand to the situation and establish a rev­ olutionary military soviet that would allow men such as Shlikhter and Meshcheriakov, whom you know and with whom I can work productively, to concentrate on the important matters at hand [?] I repeat: the situation here is now very critical.” Samoshkin, Antonovskoe , 81. 39. A June 1921 report by a political commission attached to the Red Arm y in Tambov held the local politicians largely to blame for the rise o f the insurgency in the province, linking their political intrigues to a wider sense o f dispirit in the provincial Communist Party. The result was an organization in which “two-thirds” o f local party members worked to discredit Soviet authority and indirectly helped fuel the insurgency, although this was as specific as the com ­

Notes to Pages 165-171


mission’s conclusions on the whole were. See Esikov, “Rukovodstvo,” 60. 40. The sowing committees were introduced on 15 January 1921 by VTsIK decree. See E. B. Genkina, Gosudarstvennaia deiateVnost’ V I . Lenina, 1921-1923 (Moscow: Nauka, 1969); Lars T. Lih, “ The Bolshevik Sowing Committees o f 1920: Apotheosis o f War Communism?” The Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East European Studies 803 (1990).

41. GATO f. R-18, op. 1, d. 62,1.93. The Tambov Communist Party also sent a detailed re­ port to the Central Com m ittee on the food crisis in the province on 25 January 1921. See I. P. Donkov, “Organizatsiia razgroma antonovshchiny,” Voprosy istorii K PSS 6 (1966), 66. 42. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 109-10. 43. Ibid., 111-12; Okatov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubem ii, 299-300. 44. The first such nonparty conference was scheduled to take place on 20 February. Just how “nonparty” the conference was could be almost immediately questioned, following the instructions issued on 12 February 1921 for Com m unist Party organizations in the uezds to begin selecting delegates for the conference. See Okatov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubem ii , 302. 45. Orlovskii, Kak delà , 81. 46. Lenin, Sochineniia , 32:111. O n the long-standing controversy over the razverstka and party debates relating to its termination, see S. A. Pavliuchenkov, Kresfianskii Brest, Hi predystoriia bobhevistskogo NEPa (Moscow: Russkoe knigoizdatel’skoe tovarishchestvo, 1996).

47. Citing archival documents, Grigorii O rlovskii claims that the decision had been taken by the Tambov soviet executive committee on the evening o f 8 February. See Orlovskii, Kak delà, 81—82.

48. Arup Banerji, Merchants and Markets in Revolutionary Russia, 1917-30 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997), 42. 49. Donkov, Antonovshchina , 56. 50. Fatueva, Protivostoianie , 232-33. 51. Okatov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubem ii, 302. 52. Quoted in Orlovskii, Kak delà, 83. 53. Beliakov offers this version in his memoirs. See Mikhail F. Beliakov, “Na VIII s’ezde Sovetov. Vospominaniia delegata,” in O Vladimire Wiche Lenine: Vospominaniia, 1900-1922 gg., ed. F. N. Petrov (Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo politicheskoi literatury, 1963), 580-84. 54. Ibid., 581. 55. Orlovskii claims that it was Pavlov who proposed the idea in February 1921 o f sending peasants to meet w ith Lenin. W hile it is always best to treat “ Lenin-centered” versions o f events with caution, such an orchestrated meeting with Lenin had likely been arranged well in advance. See Orlovskii, Kak delà, 81-82. 56. Beliakov, “Na VIII s’ezde,” 582. 57. Orlovskii, Kak delà, 83-84. 58. The piece initially appeared in the first issue o f the newspaper Tambovskii pakhar ’. See Danilov and Shanin, K V , 121-22; O katov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubernii, 304-05; Donkov, Antonovshchina, 61.

59. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 122. Lenin is recorded as adding: “ I know how difficult life is for the peasant, how all people ever do is take from the peasant while he receives so little in return. I know peasant life, I love it, and I respect it. I only ask that the peasants remain pa­ tient for a while longer and continue to assist their government.”


Notes to Pages 171-175

60. O n local communities’ efforts to engage the state regarding the pursuit o f food pro­ curement targets, see Landis, “ Between Village and Kremlin.” 61. The full name was the Plenipotentiary Commission o f VTsIK for the Fight Against Banditry in Tambov Province. The first session o f the commission did not take place until 2 March, after personnel and organizational matters had been resolved. 62. Ulrikh was particularly suspicious o f Nemtsov, and he reported that Nemtsov believed that the first nonparty conference scheduled for 20 February could be used as an opportunity to meet with “ representatives o f the insurgent regions, including Antonov him self” and for negotiations to be opened between the Soviet government and the insurgents. Moreover, Comrade Nemtsov spoke to me o f the need to liquidate the revolutionary military tribunals [Ulrikh's own specialism], o f the conviction that the Special Department [of the Cheka] was not needed, and that what was required was for all armed forces deployed on the “so-called front” (his exact words) to be withdrawn, in effect a termination o f all military operations__ Nemtsov's plan would bring complete chaos to the fight against kulak rebellions not only in his own Tambov but also in neighboring Saratov, Voronezh, etc. Questioning Nemtsov further, Ulrikh asked what he would do with Antonov and the other senior rebels if negotiations were to succeed: “ They would certainly make excellent agitators,” Nemtsov is reported as replying. See Fatueva, Protivostoianiey233-34. 63. Vasil’ev had been made secretary o f the provincial Communist Party on 17 February, before his prom otion to party chairman two weeks later. See RGASPI f. 17, op. 13, d. 1005, 11.139-140; RGASPI f. 17, op. 13, d. 1000,1.17.

64. Antonov-Ovseenko had prepared the ground for the conference w ith a series o f speeches to municipal organizations in Tambov, denouncing the Tambov clique as “dema­ gogic” and labeling their political platform an example o f “hooray democracy.” See AntonovOvseenko's first summary report on his activities as Plenipotentiary Commission chairman, in Danilov and Shanin, K V y127. 65. Donkov, Antonovshchina, 61-63. 66. On the army’s political department (POARM) at the time o f Zhabin’s arrival in Tam­ bov, see Trifonov, Klassy , 199. 67. Danilov and Shanin, K D P y118. 68. Similar proposals were made regarding the antidesertion patrols accused o f corrup­ tion and mistreatment o f civilians. In the words o f the Orel staff commander, A. Azarov: “The population— that is, the peasantry— w ill see and appreciate the honorable face o f Soviet power, and banditry, having been struck in this way at its roots, will be easily liquidated with an energetic and sharp blow.” See Fatueva, Protivostoianiey238-41. 69. Danilov and Shanin, K D P y118-19. 70. “In general, this is an anxious moment in time,” wrote party officials in Kozlov in midFebruary 1921, “in all respects it is difficult, but especially for the peasants. The prospects for famine are clear, not only in the present year but also for the next due to the shortage o f seed grain and draft horses__ The overall conclusion is that it is simply impossible to do what is required for the next sowing season. The necessary materials are completely lackin g. . . and this contributes to a picture o f village life that is truly nightmarish.” See GATO f. R-18, op. 1, d. 62,1.99. 71. “Helping the countryside” was added to the masthead o f all official publications in the

Notes to Pages 175-179


province. See Danilov and Shanin, K V , 127; Trifonov, Klassy, 199-202. 72. There was debate over the use o f coercion to introduce more “modern” techniques o f cultivation to peasant communities. See Lih, “Sowing Committees.“ 73. RGASPI f. 17, op. 13, d. loio, 11.31-32. 74. Sowing committees were set up in the conflict area in larger villages where the state could establish revolutionary committees. The expectation o f direct assistance also held true in such cases. See GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 283,1.30. 75. While seed grain was in short supply for distribution, other scarce items such as salt and kerosene were available in limited quantities for villages that demonstrated loyalty, as had been done in previous years o f the civil war by the Soviet government. See RGASPI f. 17, op. 13, d. 1008,1.30. 76. Chase, Workers, Society and the Soviet State , 49; Jonathan Aves, Workers Against Lenin: Labour Protest and the Bolshevik Dictatorship (London: Tauris Academic Studies, 1996), 138-39.

77. V. Moskovkin, “Vosstanie krest’ian v Zapadnoi Sibiri v 1921 godu,” Voprosii istorii 6 (1998); Shishkin, Z a sovety; V. I. Shishkin, ed., Sibirskaia vandeia (Moscow: “Demokratiia,” 2001). 78. V. P. Naumov and A. A . Kosakovskii, eds., Kronshtadt 1921. D okum enty 0 sobytiiakh v Kronshtadte vesnoi 1921 g. (Moscow: Demokratiia, 1997), 27-29,34,36-37.

79. Ibid., 8. 80. This problem was intensified by the ongoing demobilization o f the Red Army, a fact highlighted by senior military and state officials in a memorandum to the Central Com m it­ tee o f the Communist Party on 13 February 1921. See Fatueva, Protivostoianie , 222-24; N au­ m ov and Kosakovskii, Kronshtadt 1921,24-25. 81. Aves, Workers, 160-61. 82. The Sovnarkom decree provided another opportunity for the Plenipotentiary C om ­ mission to compose another announcement to the rural population o f Tambov. See Okatov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubernii, 313-14. 83. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 283,1.36. 84. ShugoP even stated, in sharp contrast to his predecessor as food commissar in Tam­ bov, GoPdin, that he would refuse to conduct tax assessments on the basis o f fifteen-year-old zemstvo statistics on harvest yields, as was customary under the razverstka. ShugoPs criti­ cism was echoed openly after the razverstka policy was abandoned. See GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 283,11.36-37,40-41,54; GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 293,1.510. 85. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 283,11.43-44. 86. The first instructions issued on the new “Methods o f Provisions Organs” on 14 April underscored the new ethos o f provisions workers to be encouraged under the tax in kind. See GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 293,11.417-18. 87. Local conferences began in late February 1921 and culminated in a provincial nonparty conference held in the second week o f March. See Donkov, “Organizatsiia,” 67-68. O n the provincial administration’s limited capabilities at the time, see Trifonov, Klassy, 199. 88. According to VasiPev, at least one was nearly killed in an assault soon after returning from Moscow. See GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 283,1.11. 89. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 283,1.30. Provincial Communist Party and Cheka officials were already aware that the shortages and grievances o f workers in Rasskazovo had prepared the


Notes to Pages 179-182

ground for such manifestations o f anti-Soviet sentiment. See Okatov et al., Sovety Tambovskoi gubem ii , 303-04.

90. According to Beliakov, the Tambov uezd soviet chairman: “The sentencing campaign is ongoing in the villages and volosts, and the sentences are being collected at volost gather­ ings. However, one cannot be led to believe that these sentences are sincere and from the heart o f the assembled peasants because, in the end, the peasants are scared when the Red Arm y arrives in their village and calls a general assembly— they cannot possibly reveal their true sentiments. We have so far about twenty o f these sentences, but we cannot truly say on the basis o f these that there has been some sort o f shift (perelom) [in peasant sympathies]. What the peasants are really asking is, set up a permanent garrison in our village, and then we will know for certain that Soviet power is strong and we w ill support it and fulfil all our duties. But when the garrison is removed, then the bandits will return and call everyone to account, finding those who spoke for Soviet power and w ho obeyed the orders o f the local so­ viet. The bandits do not only rob these people o f their possessions, but they frequently kill them.” See GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 283,1.29. In Kirsanov, both the sentencing campaign and the nonparty conferences were limited because the government controlled so litde territory. As o f April, no “sentences” had been collected and the only nonparty conference to be convened had been held in the uezd town o f Kirsanov (1.120). 91. GATO f. R-18, op. 1, d. 62,1.82. 92. GATO f. R-18, op. 1, d. 62,11. 7i-7io b; GATO f. R-i, 1.1, d. 283,1.30. 93. These and other opinions are recorded in S. A. Esikov and L. G. Protasov, “ ‘Antonovshchina’: novye podkhody,” Voprosii istorii 6I7 (1992), 51. 94. RGASPI f. 17, op. 13, d. 1005,11.141-42. According to a Red A rm y intelligence report, when Antonov learned o f the decisions o f the Tenth Party Congress in mid-March, he told his lieutenants that the rebellion was all but finished with the abandonment o f the razverstka. See Samoshkin, Antonovskoe , 82-83. In a speech (otherwise filled with unreliable claims) to the December 1921 Eighth Tambov Congress o f Soviets, VasiTev told delegates that seized STK documents attested to the impact o f the tax in kind, which had prompted some rebel lead­ ers to consider supporting the Soviet government if it would continue endorsing points o f the STK platform. Danilov and Shanin, K V , 262. 95. Assistance included the organization o f a rebel “land commission.” Once more, the Partisan Arm y was the main agent in disseminating these instructions (each regiment was supposed to have its own “sowing committee“ ) and their realization in the villages. See GA RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127,11. 50b, 820b, 84,840b. 96. RGASPI f. 17, op. 13, d. 1002,1.71; RGVA f.34228, op. 1, d. 48, 11.25,27. 97. G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 111,1.5. The Red Arm y High Command received encouraging reports from Tambov regarding the “peasants’ fear that the bandits will not permit them to sow their fields, which has led them to the conclusion that they should work to lure Antonov and other bandit leaders into the hands o f the reds.” See RGVA f. 633, op. 1, d. 63,1.75 (6 April 1921). 98. In Kozlov, officials reported in April that the presence o f rebel groups destabilized the work o f the sowing committees. They were not directly attacked, but locals were less willing to w ork with them because o f the threat that the rebels would occupy the villages and p un­ ish those who had cooperated. See GATO f. R-18, op. 1, d. 121,2-2ob.

Notes to Pages 183-184


99. Danilov and Shanin, -KV, 143-44. Many Red Arm y and VN U S soldiers, expecting de­ mobilization instead o f assignment to Tambov in the spring o f 1921, were openly insubordi­ nate, according to army intelligence. See RGVA f. 34228, op. 1, d. 4 6 , 11.2,3. 100. GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 285,1.36; Esikov and Protasov, “ ‘Antonovshchina’: novye podkhody,” 50. 101. Quoted in Nabokin, “Vintovkoi i slovom,” 105. 102. The statements o f surrendered partisans reveal such reasoning. See GATO f. R-1979, op. 1, d. 1090,11.439,440. 103. RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 409,1.32; RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 571,11.175,305. The effective­ ness o f deploying new forces to the south depended upon the cavalry contingent assigned to seal o ff the border to prevent rebel movement into Voronezh and Saratov. Glavkom in Moscow asserted in February that the cavalry reinforcements under Pavlov’s command were enough for this purpose, but in late February Pavlov him self requested that the territory be trans­ ferred back to the Voronezh local com m and because the Fourth M ilitary Sector (Borisoglebsk) did not have sufficient forces to control it. See RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 511,11. 4,11,12,51; Fatueva, Protivostoianie , 242; Danilov and Shanin, K D P , 651-52. 104. Nevertheless, the Partisan Arm y leadership was aware o f the state’s fear that the in­ surgency would spread beyond the borders o f the province. As is noted in surviving Partisan Arm y records, one Red A rm y officer, Iukhnevich, briefly fell prisoner to the Partisan Arm y in late January 1921 and surrendered intelligence regarding Red Army tactical deployments in­ tended to create a cordon sanitaire along the southern periphery o f the insurgency. Surpris­ ingly, he was not killed, despite being an officer. Iukhnevich was lucky: not only had many o f his men been executed by the partisans following their capture, but he had similarly fallen prisoner to anti-Soviet rebels in Tambov in 1919 on the eve o f M amontov’s raid and escaped serious harm. See G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127,1. 600b. 105. Danilov and Shanin, K D P , 651. 106. Ibid., 655,656. 107. The network o f local administration quickly dissolved in much o f Balashov, and the conduct o f grain procurement came to an abrupt halt. See Vedeniapin, “Antonovshchina,” 240-44; Iurii K. Strizhkov, ProdovoVstvennye otriady v gody grazhdanskoi voiny i inostrannoi interventsii: 1917-1921 gg. (Moscow: Nauka, 1973), 277.

108. Danilov and Shanin, KDP> 656. 109. Another source claims that the Partisan Arm y succeeded in organizing three sepa­ rate regiments in Saratov, mainly through forced mobilizations. This is probably too high. The one regiment that definitely was organized, however, had five separate squadrons. See Vede­ niapin, “Antonovshchina,” 242. The only STK materials from Saratov Province that eventu­ ally fell into the possession o f the Tambov Cheka were from the village o f Malo-Shcherbidino.




TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 1110,11.179-80. 110. RGVA f. 235, op. 5, d. 136,11.4 5 ,4 6 ,4 7 ,470b. 111. Vedeniapin, “Antonovshchina,” 243-44. Vendeniapin understandably had no inclina­ tion to credit the Tambov rebels with any degree o f sophistication, political or otherwise. According to his memoirs, his sister was raped by Partisan Arm y rebels during the February raid into Saratov territory.


Notes to Pages 185-188

112. The Partisan Arm y forces evidently also attracted the attentions o f local Saratov evan­ gelicals who traveled w ith the armed rebels and proselytized among them. See Danilov and Shanin, K D P , 655; Figes, Peasant Russia , 347. 113. The armed force led by the Saratov rebel, Vakhulin, remained pinned down in south­ ern Saratov at the time o f the Partisan Arm y’s incursion into the province. They made no attempt to link up with Tambov partisans. Vakhulin was killed on 17 February and was suc­ ceeded by his lieutenant, Popov, w ho then sought to travel northwest toward the border with Tambov. He was cut o ffb y Red A rm y forces in March, bringing to an end another (although not the last) suspected effort to establish contact with Antonov. See Danilov and Shanin, KDPy 659,661,686-88; Figes, Peasant Russia, 344-45. 114. Danilov and Shanin, KD P, 714,719. 115. Ibid., 642-43,647-48,666-67,707. 116. G. K. Zhukov, Vospominaniia i razmyshleniia, 10th rev. ed. (Moscow; Novosti, 1990), 1:111. 117. O n Kolesnikov, see Samoshkin, Antonovskoe, 86-92; R. Litvinov, “V te trevozhnye dvadtsatye gody,” in Voronezhskie chekisty rasskazyvaiut . . . (Voronezh: TsentraPnoe chernozemnoe knizhnoe izdatel’stvo, 1976), 28-35. 118. RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 511,11.21,24. 119. RGVA f. 25887, op. 1, d. 371,11.212—2120b. 120. Danilov and Shanin, K V y117-18. 121. The announcement continued: “ Kolesnikov, together w ith the commander o f the Third Brigade [Ivan Makarovich Kuznetsov], carried out an attack on Ternovka station on 26 February in which they engaged enemy forces from nine in the morning until two in the af­ ternoon; the enemy demonstrated stubborn resistance, but the partisans showed exceptional valor and the enemy ultimately yielded and was destroyed. O nly under the cover o f artillery fire were a mere 10-15 men able to escape, carrying a single machine gun. One hundred men were taken prisoner, and one Maxim machine gun was seized along with carts full o f am­ m unition. The enemy suffered 150-200 casualties. O ur losses were minimal.” Samoshkin, Antonovskoe , 89-90.

122. Danilov and Shanin, K V y212. 123. G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127,1.87; Samoshkin, Antonovskoey90. 124. One ChO N soldier, taken prisoner by the rebels in early March, then released, told Red Arm y investigators that Kolesnikov’s men all publicly identified themselves as “makhnovists .” See RGVA f. 235, op. 5, d. 136,1.44. 125. Kolesnikov evidently gave the Partisan Arm y credible information regarding Makhno’s activities. See Danilov and Shanin, K V y116. Red Arm y scouting reports included details and rumors o f Makhno’s insurgents operating along the southern border o f Voronezh Province in January 1921. In fact, he had dispatched one o f his lieutenants, Parkhomenko, to Voronezh to gauge the prospects for expanding their insurgency, but, as he later recalled, this was in March 1921. He made no mention in his writings to Ivan Kolesnikov. See RGVA f. 25887. op. 1, d. 409,1.32; A. Shubin, M akhno i makhnovskoe dvizhenie (Moscow: Mik, 1998), 145-46; Petr Arshinov, History o f the M akhnovist Movement, 1919-1921, trans. Lorraine and Fredy Perlman (London: Freedom Press, 1987), 200-01. 126. GATO f. R-4049, op. 1, d. 89,11.143-44 127. Danilov and Shanin, K V y212.

Notes to Pages 189-191


128. See Landis, “Waiting for Makhno.” A minor rebel leader even called himself “Makhno,” according to one captured Partisan Arm y soldier. See RGVA f. 7709, op. 1, d. 253,1.68. 129. Makhno was also aware o f wider developments, such as the Kronstadt mutiny, which his army welcomed with a broadcast transmitted weakly on seized radio equipment. See V. N. Volkovinskii, M akhno i ego krakh (Moscow: VZPI, 1991), 206-07. 130. G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127, 11. 450b, 740b; GATO f. R-4049, op. 1, d. 8 9 , 11.141-42; Danilov and Shanin, K V , 226. Kronstadt sailors and workers in the capitals were also aware o f the insurgency in Tambov, and in the case o f the former, at least, the Tambov insurgents assumed greater prominence as their own prospects diminished. See Naumov and Kosakovskii, Kronshtadt 1921,77.

131. RGVA f. 235, op. 6-s, d. 12, 1.9; RGVA f. 235, op. 6-s, d. 136,1.30. This treatment did not extend to Red Arm y officers, however, underscoring the Partisan Arm y’s targeted appeal to rank-and-file soldiers. Ivan Shablov, a Red Arm y cavalry officer, fell prisoner and was taken, along with his men, to the Partisan Arm y headquarters, where they met A ntonov himself. Knowing the treatment that awaited officers, Shablov consistendy denied his true status and even affected camaraderie with Antonov, calling him “ Shurka” (Antonov’s codename, or klichkayfrom his prerevolutionary underground days) in the rebel leader’s presence. Shablov

was eventually released. See RGVA f. 235, op. 6-s, d. 136,11. 27-28ob. 132. Danilov and Shanin, K V, 100. 133. Ibid. 134. O n the intelligence gathering related to Red Arm y morale, see G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 124,11.2-4. 135. G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 110,1.62. Intriguingly, Commander Pavlov, who was a signa­ tory o f the 11 February telegram, had complained to Lunacharsky a week earlier that the province had significant grain reserves that were not being used owing to disorganization and negligence within the provincial administration. Either Pavlov later learned this to be untrue or he changed his view in accordance with political circumstances. See V I . Lenin i A . V. Lunacharskiiy 243.

136. For example, see the reports o f March 1921 in Berelowitch and Danilov, Sovetskaia derevnia 1:387,388,390,393.

137. Pavel A. Aptekar’, “Krest’ianskaiavoina [part 1],” Voenno-istoricheskii zhum al 1 (1993), 66. 138. As Soviet Chairman Lavrov explained to uezd soviet chairmen in early April 1921: We were presented with difficult circumstances surrounding the supply o f the army oper­ ating in the localities. With our limited reserves, and with our limited transportation system, we were simply unable to provision the army. Thus it was necessary for us to arrange quickly for the collection o f foodstuffs by the military itself, bypassing the Food Commissariat au­ thorities, and this meant that collection was conducted in a manner even worse than before, be­ cause it is impossible to impress new methods o f procurement upon the military. But we had no other options, and this operation is only now being completed__ What we have now is a situation in which we have a new policy that enables us to facilitate a positive transition in our relations with the peasantry, but on the other side we are forced to continue a practice that is diametrically opposed to this policy, and this situation has prompted us to appeal sincerely to the center [Moscow] for assistance. Despite the fact that the center knows of our plight through a whole series o f considerations and statistics, and via categorical and urgent demands. . . the center simply cannot satisfy our requests.


Notes to Pages 192-194

See GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 283,11.2-3,8. 139. Official figures demonstrating only partial fulfillment o f the 1920-1921 razverstka do not include the requisitions conducted by occupying Red A rm y troops. See RGVA f. 633, op. 1, d. 63,1. 760b; Samoshkin, Antonovskoey108. 140. RGVA f. 633, op. 1, d. 63,1.83. 141. For a range o f local reports for March and April 1921 that detail the “self-provisioning” activities o f Red Arm y units, see GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 183,11.318-38. 142. GATO f. R-18, op. 1, d. 63,1.63; GATO f. R-4049, op. is, d. 34,11. 6-7ob; GATO f. R-394, op. 1,978,11.304-05» 308-10. 143. RGASPI f. 17, op. 13, d. 1010,1. 250b. 144. RGVA f. 235, op. 6s, d. 12, 1.25; Danilov and Shanin, K V y121. 145. TsDNITO f. 840, op. 1, d. 1112,1.36. 146. These themes figure prominently in the two published propaganda leaflets pertain­ ing to the surrender o f the Fourteenth A rkhangelsk Regiment o f the Partisan Army. The event may have occurred in Voronezh Province because its commanders felt more secure seeking surrender at a distance, or it could have been a consequence o f the regiment being distanced from the stronghold o f the Partisan Army. But Soviet propaganda emphasized that the rebels had surrendered as a matter o f conscience, making peace with the state so the pop­ ulation could return to field work, also claiming that the surrendered rebels were greeted “not as enemies, but as brothers, with warm words and music.” Another piece, signed by the commanders o f the Fourteenth Regiment, urged other partisans to surrender, claiming, “Dur­ ing our first meeting [with Red Arm y authorities] it became clear to us that the aims o f our struggle are shared by all principled Communists.” See Danilov and Shanin, K V y134-35. The latter appeal was specifically addressing a brigade led by one “Comrade Chumichev” that was operating in western Borisoglebsk uezd and allegedly attacking villages that collaborated with the Soviet government. Judging by reports, the Chumichev unit had always been a “rogue” el­ ement, even stealing food and supplies from other Partisan Arm y regiments. See G A RF f. R-8415, op. 1, d. 127,11. 50b, 91.

Chapter 7 : Between Ambition and Necessity 1. Danilov and Shanin, K V y110. 2. For ten days in March 1921, government forces had the First Partisan Arm y on the run, and on 19-20 March, they believed to have had the main force led by Antonov encircled in the region between the Tambov-Rasskazovo railway and the m ajor village near the TambovMorshansk border, Pakhotnyi Ugol. Some o f Antonov’s force (est. 1,500 men) was able to es­ cape across the railway to southern Tambov and Kirsanov uezds on 20 March, owing to a major blunder by military and rail officials in which a passenger train was allowed to pass through the conflict zone. Unbelievably, Antonov and his men were able to escape by using this train for cover, crossing the rail line at Platonovka, a station to the east o f Rasskazovo. The operation did result in significant losses for the rebels— reportedly over 1,000 killed and masses o f firearms and ammunition seized. Antonov’s narrow escape raised suspicions o f sabotage and treachery, but a special commission concluded otherwise after an investigation.

Notes to Pages 194-198


“At the time,” wrote Antonov-Ovseenko, “ I called this a ‘tactical victory’ . . . but I can now hear the words loudly spoken: ‘But a strategic defeat?*” See RGASPI f. 17, op. 13, d. 1010,1.28; GATO f. R-i, op. 1, d. 283,11. 8-9; Ivan Trutko, “ Primeneniia aeroplanov, kak razervov,” Krasnaia A rm iia , nos. 5-6 (1921).

3. Danilov and Shanin, K V y142. 4. Having been made overall com m ander o f the First Partisan Arm y in late February, Kolesnikov refused to submit to the authority o f the Partisan Army headquarters. This involved both operational matters as well as sharing captured loot and, in particular, seized weapons that were in such short supply among rebel units. Kolesnikov’s independence prompted a minor schism within the First Partisan Arm y in early March 1921 but was not itself decisive for Kolesnikov. Instead, a series o f setbacks in late March forced him and the First Partisan Army to withdraw from Tambov to Voronezh Province, where they continued to be pursued by Red Army cavalry. This evidently provoked a second schism in which the Voronezh natives separated from the majority tambovtsy, who returned to Tambov Province and reorganized under the overall command o f Boguslavskii. Kolesnikov’s fortunes continued to worsen, and on 28 April he was shot dead during a battle with Red Arm y forces. See Samoshkin, Antonovskoe , 97. 5. O ne rebel soldier (Sergei Vasil’evich Ionov,